Robert Downey Junior has to be one of the most charismatic and likable actors working in Hollywood. That’s why, in The Judge, it’s easy not to despise his character, Hank Palmer. Give this same role to a unknown actor, and no way would we root for this guy to come out on top.

Hank Palmer is a flashy, conceited Chicago lawyer who acts like he’s got it all figured out, but his marriage is falling apart. When his mother dies and he returns home for her funeral, his father (Robert Duvall) is arrested for murder. Hank feels he has no choice but to stay in Indiana to represent his dad.


Seems like what would follow would be standard court drama fair, and it does begin that way. You might think you could predict beat by beat what comes next. And while you will find a lot of clichés here, the film is ultimately saved by strong performances from RDJ and Duvall.

What didn’t work: the script tries a little too hard to throw in too many light moments. Some of that is just RDJ’s natural smirky charm, but the tone wavers too much in general.

The first act takes its sweet time getting into the story, and I struggled to figure out what kind of movie it was going to become. There are enough jokes that when the tone pivots to seriousness, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh, or keep quiet. You might have to peek around at the rest of the audience to see what they’re doing first.

What worked: RDJ and Duvall chew the scenery the perfect amount. It never feels heavy-handed, but be prepared to get misty-eyed at least once or twice when RDJ starts emoting. Man, that guy can emote, can’t he?

The story has a few twists and surprises, so I don’t want to give too much away. But it’s not as predictable as the premise might have you believe.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, sometimes too much. But I think, overall, it’s a movie about legacy, about what we leave behind after we move on. And seemingly-unrelated plot elements like RDJ’s relationship with his daughter and the rekindling of a romance with his high school girlfriend all play into that. RDJ has to figure out what his own legacy is going to be, as he helps his father defend his own legacy.

Despite its flaws, it worked for me.


My rating: 7/10

The Judge is playing at Century Boulder Theater