The Judge, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, a film filled with a long list of dramas, is not actually that dramatic. Robert Downey Jr. is always good at playing the smart guy who occasionally shows his emotional side, but when the film begins with his character Hank, peeing on a co-worker, it is hard to imagine him taking anything seriously
Within the first two minutes of the film, we find out that Hank is a rich and famous lawyer who is getting divorced and that he and his wife are facing a custody battle over their daughter. Hank also finds out that his mother has just died. This is what forces him to go home to rural Carlinville, Indiana (a fictional town) to see his family. We learn from his trip that he and his family have a rocky relationship and that he and his father (Robert Duvall) are somewhat estranged, which is made perfectly clear when Hank says of his father ‘I wish he died instead of Mom.’ If that wasn’t enough, his father is then accused of murder the day after the funeral. This accusation is interesting because his father has been a judge in Carlinville for a few decade hence the title of the film The one scene we get of The Judge being a judge (they refer to him only as ‘The Judge’ the entire film) is a case of a man refusing to pay child support to his pregnant girlfriend. The judge turns to the woman and gestures around his stomach and asks, ‘want me to tell you what uh causes that ma’am?’. This is among one of the best scenes in the film.
The best overall scene of the film is when The Judge’s sons (including Hank) are in a bar and a group of guys try to pick a fight with them about The Judge. Hank’s response is to ask them what they were charged for, ‘DUI?’ he asks, ‘Drug possession? Assault?’, and looking at one of their girlfriends: ‘You okay, sweetheart?’ His wit is comparable to that only of his father. In between the witty comments the film is filled with dramatic concepts: divorce, cancer (including the bad side effects from chemotherapy treatment), car accidents, a murder trial, a recovering alcoholic,a professional baseball career ruined by an injury, a brother with a mental disability and the list goes on. But somehow, it is hard to take it seriously when Hanks’s 11 year-old daughter says things like: ‘Daddies don’t get lonely, they just marry younger mommies.’
The father-son relationship between Hank and The Judge is too obvious. It is sort of a less intense August Osage County with a happy ending. He has to go back to his hometown and he and his father start out on bad terms, things get better, but then there’s a big explosive fight and then everything is out in the open so they can begin to heal. In the end, they fix their problems and spend a day fishing on the lake, which is a memory both characters reflect on throughout the film. It was just a little too perfect. If you can get past the corniness, some of the lawyering Hank does is interesting, and so is the story behind why they think The Judge killed someone. Robert Downey Jr.’s acting is as good as it can be, and Robert Duvall is similarly great in his portrayal of The Judge. There are even several subtleties that are fun to catch. Bon Iver’s song Holocene, which serves as the theme for the film is another great feature of the film, really hitting on the emotional themes.