Review of “The Judge”

Movie cover art

Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. star in this 2014 drama that is just as much about the dynamics that play out in the living room as it is about the courtroom. The two Roberts play father and son, judge and follow-in-dad’s-footsteps-lawyer, respectively. I enjoyed it enough to watch it a second time because of the gradually-revealed characters and their relationships, and the gut-wrenching lack of boundaries between their work and personal lives.

Robert Duvall as Judge Hank Palmer in The Judge

Robert Duvall as Judge Hank Palmer in The Judge

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Robert Downey, Jr., as Hank Palmer in The Judge

Robert Downey, Jr., as Hank Palmer in The Judge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most courtroom dramas do not accurately depict the reality of courtroom proceedings. The Judge is an exception, and is chock full of teachable moments. In addition to the well-crafted trial scenes (more about those later), the movie drives home two important truths: Judges are fully human, and they bring the sum of their life experiences to their cases. These are significant realities for any lawyer or pro se litigant to understand, to dispel any notion that judges are cold slabs of granite. For these lessons alone, this movie is worth your time.

Courthouse in The Judge

Courthouse in The Judge

Courtroom scene in The Judge

Courtroom scene in The Judge

 

     

 

 

 

 

The movie also has some memorable moments. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall) is introduced as he presides over a dispute, with one party appearing without an attorney. To that litigant Judge Palmer says, “Look around you. You’re standing in one of the last great cathedrals in this country, built on the premise that you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your actions.” It’s a nice line, I like it, although I prefer to think of courthouses as monuments to the social evolution away from mob rule and tribal warfare, but the writers of The Judge never asked me.
  • Around thirty-six minutes in, Judge Palmer talks about being manipulated by a psychopath who appeared in his courtroom, and the tragic consequences that followed. It’s easy to imagine that this is the type of experience that would tend to reverberate throughout a judge’s career.
  • At an hour and twenty-five minutes, Robert Downey Jr.’s character declares, during a negotiation with another attorney, “Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in the hot tub.”
  • Then, the other attorney, played by Billy Bob Thornton, explains that he “has one simple belief: that the law is the only thing capable of making people equal.” It’s good to have goals.
  • At an hour and forty-five minutes, a full-on trial begins. The direct and cross examinations of witnesses, objections, arguments, and rulings are very well done. And, importantly, the verdict is … well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Which brings us to this quandary: We want to thoroughly discuss the well-crafted courtroom scenes, but we have an aversion to spoilers. So, we’re pausing this article here so you can watch the movie yourself (please support LawYou by purchasing the DVD through our Amazon aStore), and then we’ll pick it up again in our Google Group Forum, where everyone will be able to participate in the discussion. Among the topics we’ll address are evidence rules, order of presentation, and courtroom decorum. Please join us!

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