I find it quite strange that on two visits to the cinema within a couple of days, you can see the screening of a film that does nothing to draw you in and to some extent alienates you from it’s narrative. As I inferred in my blog on Gone Girl (2014) it was not as though it was a bad film, just one that I personally could not get engaged in or for that matter one that I did not really enjoy. Now as I say, two days latter I go to the same wee cinema in Dumfries and find a completely different set of cinematic circumstances. The Judge (2014) is every thing that David Fincher’s film was not!
Firstly you have got the story, which has characters you can empathise with and in all honesty, quite like. There’s the successful Chicago hotshot lawyer with a motor mouth, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) who helps the guilty beat the system “innocent people can’t afford me” he boasts. When his mother dies he returns to his hometown of Carlinville Indiana, somewhere he has not been for many years. This wee rural town is where his two brothers still live, the older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his mentally impaired younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong). But the reason that Hank has not been back is his fraught relationship with his father, local Judge Henry Palmer (Robert Duvall). Hank fully intended to return to his unfinished court case in Chicago right after the funeral but when his fathers car is discovered to have been damaged and blood is found on the vehicle and the body of a man is discovered on the highway - the Judge is suspected of running him down. Hank Palmer wants to stay to defend his father should the case come to court, but there are a lot of bridges to be crossed before this stubborn pair can renew any form of relationship.
Secondly we have a cast whose acting is first rate. Although admittedly the most riveting scenes are these between Downey Jr and Duvall the rest of the cast are superb. D’Onofrio and Strong are convincing as the brothers with a great performance from the lovely Vera Farmiga as Hanks hometown love interest, we are also treated to a fabulous performance from Billy Bob Thornton as Hanks opposite number in the films thrilling court room sequence’s.
Although David Dobkin is better known for comedies he certainly makes a grand job of helming this drama. The soundtrack was composed by Thomas Newman who has collaborated with Sam Mendes on six occasions including Skyfall (2012) and the new James Bond, Spectre due to be released next year. Its very crisp cinematography is in the very capable hands of the Janusz Kaminski who has previously won Academy Awards for his work on Schindlers List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), and has more recently been DOP on War Horse (2011) and Lincoln (2012).
Part family drama, part courtroom drama, I found the movie quite emotional and in certain scenes quite heart rendering. It’s both interesting and entertaining with a sly sense of humour. And unlike my previous film this week, it’s nearly two and a half hour running time absolutely flew by.