A Young Lion and The King of The Jungle Square Off in “The Judge”
By Skip Sheffield
There is a reason Robert Downey, Jr. is the highest paid actor in movies today.
“You are the best,” admitted Robert Duvall simply.
Spoiler alert: Duvall was speaking as his character of Judge Hank Palmer in “The Judge.” Downey plays his estranged son, Joseph Palmer.
Joe returns to his small Missouri home town from Chicago, where he is a hotshot lawyer, when he receives word his mother has died. Joe’s pugnacious attitude is established in a brief, funny scene in a men’s room early in the movie.
Joe hasn’t really dealt with his old man since he went off to college. In fact he has not returned home since that time.
Hank Palmer has a reputation has a reputation as a tough but fair judge. His confidence is shaken with the passing of his beloved wife, but there is something else bothering him. His entire reputation is put to the test when a young man on a bicycle is killed by a motorist. Circumstantial evidence points to blood of the victim and damage on Hank Palmer’s vintage 1971 Cadillac.
A young lawyer named C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) is hired to defend Hank Palmer, but Joe Palmer knows from the outset Kennedy is no match for shark-like lawyer Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton, in fine form) as the prosecutor. Dickham wants no less than a first-degree murder charge.
Director David Dobkin brings out a fair amount of humor, much of it raunchy, but it is the father-son battle that is the heart of Nick Schenk’s (“Gran Torino”) screenplay.
There is plenty of dysfunction in the Palmer family. Older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) was a champion baseball player in college, but a car accident with a 17-year-old Joe Palmer at the wheel put an end to that career.
Younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is evidently mentally disabled and dependent on his family for care.
Providing strong support as Joe’s high school sweetheart, Samantha Powell, is Vera Farminga. Intriguing as Sam’s alluring daughter Carla is Leighton Meester.
The main attraction is the two leads: a young lion and an aging king of the jungle. Duvall looks older than his 72-year-old character, but there is a reason for that two. “The Judge” is a quality movie for mature adults.