You can always tell when Oscar season has arrived. Films grow maudlin and tackle subjects like racism, genocide and human dysfunction. The Judge is early out of the gate for Academy consideration and packs a cast of lauded actors, a couple of whom have already made the trip to the dais. The film isn't perfect, but if you want to see some spectacular acting, this is your movie.
Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) has presided over a small Indiana court for 40 years. His son, Hank (Robert Downey Jr.), kicked the dirt of their small town off of his shoes long ago, and is now a slippery criminal defense attorney with a daughter and soon-to-be ex wife in Chicago. When his mother dies, Hank is forced to return to Indiana to confront his family, as well as some painful memories. While there, Joseph is implicated in a violent hit-and-run, and his son must defend him without his typical grab bag of ethical and legal loopholes. Meanwhile, Hank encounters Samantha (Vera Farmiga), the high school sweetheart he abandoned after a tragedy.
Here is my beef: The first 15 minutes of the film are filled with so much exposition--we are spoon-fed an extremely obvious back story--that I was insulted. When Hank recaps for his own wife the cause for their split, I was irritated. When Hank rehashes his alienated childhood, I almost gave up--almost.
In the end, the absolutely brilliant performances of Downey and Duvall make the movie worth every minute, despite the shortcomings of the script. Honestly, Downey and Farmiga have so little chemistry, I could have done without that story line altogether. It pales in comparison to the father-son drama. It's a 7.