By Sean Walker, Collegiate Staff
When dreaming, everything in the dream makes sense in the moment, but when trying to reflect on it the next day it’s easy to tend to come up short and be left with a story that doesn’t add up. Similarly, when telling a story that covers up tracks, if one word slips, someone’s caught. In court, this usually means the convicted is guilty of a crime, but what happens when said convicted really doesn’t have any clear memory of what happened?
This concept revolves around the many themes explored in “The Judge,” a film about the struggles people face in the court- room. Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) has been presiding over cases for several years in Carlinville, Indiana and has a reputation for being tough but fair.
Now he’s become the one in the hot seat, accused of a hit and run. The victim was a convicted murderer he sent to prison years ago. With his wife having recently passed away, Joseph is having a hard time sorting out his thoughts, and claims that he has no clear memory of the incident even when evidence is mounting against him. Joseph is worried that this crime could undermine his reputation, and no one seems able or willing to defend him in trial.
Enter Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), Joseph’s estranged son who steps in to help his dad. This job is the most difficult of Hank’s career, not just because of the increasing evidence, but because Hank and Joseph have not been on good terms for quite some time. Both men blame each other for family matters and events that drove a wedge between them, and even after all these years they can barely stand in the same room together without arguing. But, for the sake of the family, Hank and Joseph must put their rivalry aside for the moment and work together to save Joseph from imprisonment.
The father-son dynamic helps Downey and Duvall bring out the best in themselves as not just actors, but human beings. It’s a situation many can relate to: Avoiding family matters because of past grudges, and then eventually having to return and locate the root of the issue. The gaps of time are filled to some extent, but the pains are still clear. Sometimes these struggles bring us closer together over time, and such is the case in “The Judge,” where Downey and Duvall’s characters must both make the decision of which is more important to them at the end of the day, their careers or each other.
These topics are certainly serious, but the movie itself finds the right balance between serious and too serious. The over- riding theme of the movie dips into the family matters we all know only too well. The intensity of the scenes in court keep you on the edge of your seat without too much risk of falling off, but it is the dynamic between Downey and Duvall that brings out the emotion, though not to the extent where you’ll need a whole lot of tissues.
With Oscar buzz already surrounding this movie, it’s hardly a surprise that every aspect of the movie grips you and brings you right into the heart of the conflict. The last- ing effect of “The Judge” is that, wherever you may be in life, there’s always a chance to come back to your roots and, essentially, find the part of your life that’s been missing, whatever that may be, that will lead you to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a family.