Parent-child relationships don’t get easier with age. In fact, they often become more volatile once both sides can do the cursing, as is made painfully – and poignantly – clear in The Judge.
In this star-powered courtroom/family drama, Robert Duvall plays the title character who’s been presiding over a small town Indiana courtroom and three grown sons for decades. He is obsessed with his could-have-been-a-professional-baseball-player eldest (Vincent D’Onofrio) and protective over his youngest (Jeremy Strong), who is mentally impaired and sweetly innocent.
His middle son, Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.) on the other hand, is a hotshot, big city defense attorney who has been estranged from them all since he was a teenager. When he returns for the funeral of his beloved mother, he quickly realizes why he’s stayed away and he leaves again, only to be called back to defend his father on a murder charge.
The case itself is fascinating and the movie could easily stand on its own as a John Grisham-ish legal thriller, especially with Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecutor determined to put Hank in his place. But what makes this movie special is the explosive father-son relationship, and the powerful performances by the actors portraying the two.
Although Hank tries to do the right thing, he is repeatedly shot down by his dad, who says things like, “I wish I liked you more” and “Imagine a faraway place where people value your opinion – and go there.”
The scars are deep, and the hurt is obvious as Hank confesses to his brothers, “I wish dad had died instead of mom.”
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Over the course of the movie, we are brought into the complicated family history and come to understand why the Judge feels the way he does. We may not agree but we do realize why a man who believes “you, and you alone, are responsible for the consequences of your actions” would be compelled to push his son so hard.
Duvall and Downey are at the top of their game here. There’s a scene in which Hank washes his father in the shower that is so tender and authentic, it will bring tears to your eyes. Duvall’s performance is literally stripped to its core, revealing the honesty and vulnerability that make him such a compelling actor. Downey is equally good, and it’s refreshing to see him as an everyday human being instead of a superhero – although, to boomers forced to deal with their own parents’ messy bodily functions, he may still be considered one here.
The Judge is a must-see which makes a strong case for forgiveness and compassion. Objections? Overruled!
Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.