The Paw Print
This 141-minute court comedy and drama film is about the shady but brilliant Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.). He returns to his hometown in Indiana after learning his mother passed away. However when he reunites with his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), this triggers an old tension. Judge Palmer is constantly reminding Hank how he doesn’t approve of Hanks shady attorney business and career. While at home, Hank is able to reconnect with his two brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) and his high school sweetheart Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga).
After the funeral, Judge Palmer excuses himself to go to the store while the brothers catch up with each other. The next morning when Hank is set to depart his father is arrested for a hit-and-run murder of someone previously convicted by the judge. Hank takes his father’s case with an awkward local lawyer (Dax Shepard), thinking he was drinking and driving, despite the objections Judge Palmer has against his son taking his case. After taking his father’s case he learns that his father is undergoing chemotherapy, which can cause memory loss.
The prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thorton), is seeking a murder conviction for first-degree murder. By the end of the movie, despite Hank’s efforts to keep Judge Palmer out of prison, he is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and is sentenced to four years in prison. He is released on compassionate parole after serving seven months and Hank and him go fishing together. After putting aside their differences they start to reconnect and Judge Palmer tells Hank he is the best lawyer he knows and then passes away.
David Dobkin’s film tries to fit in too many dramatic story lines into one film. With a mother’s funeral, a father-son tension, a tornado scare, a fight with cancer, an alcoholism problem, a mentally challenged young brother, a custody battle, and possible incest this movie has too many problems squeezed in to one story line. All of these problems eventually lead to a very predictable endpoint where son and father reunite and forgive each other.
While Downey was undoubtedly the primary box office draw, his performance was passionate but far from award winning. Co-star Duvall does a fantastic job at subtly chipping away piece by piece of his enduring exterior to reveal a broken and vulnerable human being below. Some great moments in the movie come when Downey and Duvall play off each other. They listen and react to each other and take lines and moments to places that are surprising but well played. While the supporting cast is full of strong actors their characters are rarely explored deeply and their story lines are left underdeveloped. They exist in the story line to teach the audience about Hank and his rocky past. By the end, The Judge is a very capable film and a great platform for Duvall to shine but it falls a little short from being memorable.
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