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Review – The Judge (15) [2014]

The Judge - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Dobkin – Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, The Change-Up

Cast:

  • Robert Duvall – The Godfather I-II, Deep Impact, Jack Reacher, Racing Legacy
  • Robert Downey Jr – Chaplin, Zodiac, Iron Man I-III, The SoloistThe Avengers Assemble I & II, Captain America III
  • Vera Farmiga – Dust, Source Code, Safe House, The Conjuring I-II
  • Billy Bob Thornton – Armageddon, Monster’s Ball, Eagle Eye, London Fields
  • Leighton Meester – Gossip Girl, Date Night, The Roommate, By The Gym
  • Vincent D’Onofrio – Guy, Men In Black, Escape Plan, Jurassic World
  • Jeremy Strong – The Happening, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Selma
  • Ken Howard – Melrose Place, Michael Clayton, Rambo, The Wedding Ringer
  • Emma Tremblay – Elysium, The Giver, Santa’s Little Ferrets
  • Sarah Lancaster – Saved By The Bell: New Class, Everwood, Dr Vegas, The Good Doctor
  • David Krumholtz – Sausage Party

Music Composer:

All parent-child relationships are fraught with layers and complexities. Regardless of whether a parent and child have a good, bad or ambivalent relationship, the relationship is always coloured by past events and the personalities of the individuals involved. Despite The Judge being ostensibly about a judge in the docks, the film interestingly tells us more about a difficult father-son relationship than about being a judge.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

The Judge begins with Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr), a defence barrister in Chicago, learning that his mother has died and that he must return to Calinville, a small town in Indiana, for the funeral. In Calinville, Hank reunites with his brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), as well as his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Rubert Duvall), whom Hank has a problematic relationship with, and vice-versa.

However, one night, Judge Joseph comes home with the side of his car damaged with blood stains on it. Soon, the police come round and question him about a dead body. Then, they charge Judge Joseph with murder. That is when Hank steps in to defend his father.

The Judge is a stimulating film with much going for it. The dialogue is well written and the acting is brilliant across the board; especially, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both are fantastic and the two men have a great, if challenging, rapport. Downey Jr may (inevitably) dominate the film with his trademark fast-talk and arrogance. But unlike his (pathetic) attempts at giving himself a weakness in Iron Man III, in The Judge he genuinely shows audiences vulnerability in his character; not least in his fractured relationship with his on-screen father. Reflexively, Duvall gives viewers an interesting take on the difference in being a good judge and a good father due to Judge Joseph’s relationship with Hank.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Downey Jr and Duvall aside, the rest of the cast all play their roles decently. However, there are too many extraneous characters that add little to the storyline, or rather the storylines because The Judge tries to be three films in one. That The Judge cannot determine what sort of film it wishes to be is the root of its problems.

Predominately, it is a family drama. This plot is the strongest of the plots and the one with the most detail. Arguably, if the movie had just stuck to being about the Palmer family (and its dynamics) it would have made for a fascinating (and succinct) hundred minutes. But instead, The Judge has elements of a legal thriller and a romantic comedy about it, which bloat the movie’s running time to 141 minutes.

The legal thriller storyline feels like a side issue throughout the film, which is odd considering the movie’s title. Relatively little time is given to this particular plot, but all the same it is an intriguing and worthwhile storyline; it gives one an insight into how difficult it must be for a judge to work out what is (and what is not) the truth of a case (which holds great significance currently in light of the conclusion of the Oscar Pistorius sentencing); and, moreover, some of the courtroom duels between Hank and Prosecutor Dwight Dickman (Billy Bob Thornton) are highly entertaining. Credit must also be given to Director David Dobkin for giving the central protagonist a worthy adversary and not a second-rate nitwit, like in other legal thrillers, such as The Lincoln Lawyer.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Nevertheless, if the legal thriller elements of the film feel like a sideshow, the romantic comedy sub-plots feel pointless and often inappropriately timed. Sarah Lancaster’s, Vera Farmiga’s and Leighton Meester’s characters add an (inane) contrivance that The Judge would have been better without, while some of the (otherwise brilliant) exchanges between Hank and Judge Joseph should have occurred at more suitable times and places. Inane contrivances and revelations at unsuitable times are clichés that romantic comedies regularly adopt to make their stories more interesting than they really are, and Dobkin knows this all too well from having directed 2011’s (the forgettable) The Change-Up. The Judge would have made for a far more realistic film, with a more consistent tone, if Dobkin had focussed the film on the family drama and added more to the legal thriller elements, and not felt the need to dabble again in the mire of a romantic comedy.

All-in-all, The Judge is a very good film. It has been well directed, written and acted; the handicap is that Dobkin could not make up his mind as to what genre of film he wanted to make. Otherwise, the movie would have been among the best of 2014. Despite that, The Judge gives audiences some terrific performances and scenes, as well as an appreciation for a complex and layered father-son relationship. Above-all, The Judge illustrates that one can be a don in their profession, but that does not necessarily make one a good mother/father, and that past experiences with one’s kids can have a great impact on one’s personal and professional career.

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Review – The Lincoln Lawyer (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

There have not been many legal-thrillers made in recent years. The Reader and The Social Network are two that spring to mind. The Lincoln Lawyer is not, over-all, as good as those two films, but it certainly gives one value for money.

The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the book by Michael Connelly. It is about a smooth-talking, alcoholic defence lawyer, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose job is to keep criminals on the street. He’s quite good at it too – and knows it – which is why Lewis (Ryan Phillippe – Cruel Intentions, Breach, Flags of our Fathers), a thirty-two year old man from a wealthy family, demands that Mick represent him. Lewis has been charged with violent assault and rape against a prostitute; although, Lewis is adamant that he has been set up. Yet, no sooner does Mick agree to represent Lewis when things begin to get murky and twisted.

The prostitute giving Lewis her address, before he allegedly beats her up and rapes her at knife-point.

For a film that is dominated by courtrooms and legal technicalities, The Lincoln Lawyer is surprisingly interesting even to those who care little for the law. The plot is gripping and relatively simple to follow, provided the viewer is concentrating. At times, one may wonder which law-case Mick is referring to. The storyline also has a couple of flaws and things always seem to work out coincidentally well for Mick (as they tend to do for main characters in films), but not to the extent that the movie becomes ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination.

The plot is aided by very good choreography and a dialogue that is generally well-written. The director, Brad Furman (The Take), and the script-writer, John Romano (Intolerable Cruelty, Prodigy), have certainly done their homework and appear to have quite a solid knowledge of American federal law as well as Californian state law. (I do not know enough about such matters to be able to pass a proper judgement. I can only get a feel for the American legal system based on what has been said throughout the film.) There are a handful of sensationalist lines that obviously would not be said in a real court; yet, this does not take too much away from the script’s over-all quality.

Mick representing Lewis in court.

The script’s main beneficiary is Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey plays very well as a conceited barrister. (One should be aware that a common theme in movies is to make the main character look good by placing him/her next to or against weaker actors. In The Lincoln Lawyer, particularly in the courtroom scenes, McConaughey comes up against a less competent barrister than himself. The director also gives McConaughey the last word in the vast majority of the scenes, which makes him stand out more than he should.) Although McConaughey’s performance is not quite worthy of an Oscar nomination due to a lack of depth in Mick’s character; he illustrates that he is versatile and far from doomed to solely play hopeless-romantic roles like the one he did in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days.

Without a doubt, McConaughey outshines Ryan Phillippe, the main supporting actor in The Lincoln Lawyer. Philippe does an alright and competent job; but has not really enhanced his reputation as an actor much here. Just like in Cruel Intentions, he plays here a spoilt rich kid needing to get his way. In all of his films, including Breach (wherein he plays a spy), Philippe conveys the same passion. In addition, he has the same scrunched-up facial expression that does him no favours. In Philippe’s defence, one can argue that he is not given the tools or the time to express himself in order to make the audience empathise with Lewis’ situation. But this is not a convincing argument; especially considering that Melissa Leo won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after having less time on the screen in The Fighter than Phillippe did here.

All-in-all, The Lincoln Lawyer is certainly worth watching. It is entertaining and, seemingly, portrays the American legal world quite accurately; despite being a little theatrical on occasions. Indeed, by the end one should leave the movie feeling very satisfied.

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