A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Despite the current trend to stock the cineplex with movies filled with car chases and explosions, I am always on the lookout for movies which feature an actual plot. When I saw a commercial for the movie “The Judge”, I thought I might like it and I was right. Part of the reason was the terrific cast, which included the secondary characters as well as the stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, both excellent as usual.
The story follows Hank Palmer(Downey), a hot shot lawyer in Chicago who returns to the small town he grew up in for his mother’s funeral. He is estranged from his father, the judge of the title(Duvall), who rules both the courtroom and his family with strict morals. Hank’s brothers have stayed in town, Glen, a high school baseball star who now runs an auto shop and Dale, a sweet, autistic man who views everything from behind a portable movie camera. There is also an old girlfriend, Samantha, who has a daughter that might possibly be Hank’s. As he is getting on the plane to leave after the funeral, Hank receives a message that his father may have been the driver involved in a hit and run accident and feels it’s his duty to stay and help. And the Past comes rushing back. Grappling with it while the court case plays out is the arc of the story and the well written characters convey humor, pathos and regret. Almost any adult can relate to at least part of the complexities of the family dynamics, of supplanting one’s past self with the present and wrestling with the perspective of memories.
When a family has as much dysfunction and secrets as the Palmer family, the story is usually set in the American South.It’s Faulkner territory, after all. This time it is in Midwest rural Indiana, where corn fields form the backdrop, in one especially appealing moment, when Hank is riding a bike with no hands. That is one of the metaphorical scenes, another more obvious one is Hank and his father having a confrontation during a near hurricane, stomping around the house yelling while the wind billows the sheer curtains(does no one ever shut their windows in movies?). There are a few predictable events, but not even the trial goes the way I thought it would and there are some real surprises over the course of the film. Music is used well to accent the moods; Thomas Newman’s impeccable score, with Bon Iver’s “Helocene” played at some emotional scenes and the closing credits over Willie Nelson’s version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”, which wasn’t half bad.
While “The Judge” isn’t flawless, the exploration of human relationships with all of their potential and failings is thoughtfully done, by an excellent cast. It’s a good story and well told.
Warner Bros. 2014 141 mins.