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The Judge (2014)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/27/2015

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/20/2015

Have you ever had a mediocre meal in a really nice restaurant and it somehow tasted better? Or maybe you've seen a middle-of-the-road band in a cool venue which helped to make the show more memorable. Yes, the addition of the proper elements can help to make something bland stand out. When critiquing movies, I will often comment that the cast gives the film an overall boost. The cast is the movie in The Judge, a very formulaic drama which rises far above its station thanks to the actors involved.

Robert Downey Jr. stars in The Judge as Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer. Hank is a real shark and he has a reputation for helping criminals to go free. Unfortunately, his devotion to his job has driven his marriage to ruin, although he remains close to his young daughter, Lauren (Emma Tremblay). When he gets word that his mother had died, Hank must return to his hometown in Indiana, a place which he has avoided for decades due to the rift between himself and his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). Once there, Hank is reunited with his brothers, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), as well as an old flame, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). Throughout the funeral and visitation, Hank and the Judge butt heads, and he can't wait to leave. However, Hank's trip home is cut short when the Judge is accused of a crime. Suddenly, Hank finds himself defending the man who never showed him any love or respect. Hank will learn that his father is a very obstinate client, but an even more complicated person.

Screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque (with assistance from Director David Dobkin), must have gotten a list of movie cliches and started slinging them at a whiteboard to see which ones stuck, as The Judge is simply filled with them. Allow me to reel off the list for you: man with checkered past is forced to return home to face his estranged father; the deceased mother had been the glue which held the family together; the old flirtation begins immediately when our hero runs into a girlfriend from the past; hero and father argue constantly about how our hero was treated as a child; and last, but not least, every courtroom drama cliche ever. One of the very few things here which is original is the "mash-up" quality of the story, as we have the "man forced to go home again" tale which suddenly morphs into a courtroom drama. Outside of that, much of the movie is fairly pedestrian and predictable.

So, what makes The Judge worth watching? The acting. Yes, Robert Downey Jr. is once again playing Robert Downey Jr. But, just like the role of Tony Stark, Downey was born to play a cocky lawyer and he nails the courtroom scenes. He also brings depth to the conflict scenes, as Hank is someone who tries everything to not lose his cool. Duvall, who received an Oscar nod for his performance, is excellent as well. Angry, yet very feeble, we understand why Hank hates the Judge, but we then see him vulnerable and exposed, and Duvall is superb at going from scary to pitiful. The often underrated Vincent D'Onofrio is good here as well, as the brother who stayed at home while Hank ran off to college and the big city. Billy Bob Thornton appears as the opposing counsel in the trial, and like Duvall, he juggles playing someone who is unlikable, but we also see that he's simply doing his job. The biggest surprise here is Dax Sheppard, who is totally believable as an attorney who is in over his head.

The Judge comes from Director David Dobkin, who also helmed 2005's Wedding Crashers. That was another movie which was saved by its cast and their dynamic performances. This trend continues with The Judge. Don't watch this movie for the story, as you'll drive yourself crazy waiting for something original or shocking to happen. The story is serviceable enough, but it's only there to give the actors something to latch onto. In lesser hands, the movie would have been unwatchable treacle. Downey, Duvall, and company are able to elevate the material, and even the saccharine ending works. In the end, don't judge this one too harshly.

The Judge...no, not the Trans-Am...on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as we can see every line on Duvall's face, and the depth is average. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, the bulk of the audio comes from the front and center channels. The courtroom scenes and a flashback offer some noticeable surround sound, which doesn't simply reproduce the front channels. I didn't note any specific subwoofer effects, other than mild bass from car engines.

The Judge Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director David Dobkin. "Inside The Judge" (22 minutes) is a round-table discussion with the actors and creative team who talk about the movie's themes, the character nuances, and the production. "Getting Deep with Dax Shepard" (9 minutes) has the actor interviewing Thornton, D'Onofrio, and Downey -- All of which is very silly and goofy. The Disc contains eleven DELETED SCENES which run about 18 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from Dobkin. Some of these are new moments and some are longer scenes from the movie, but we don't get any new characters or subplots here.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long