I’m not a big crier–I teared up when Denny died in Grey’s Anatomy and a little at the end of Million Dollar Baby, but other than that it’s safe to say that I’m a relatively stoic viewer. But The Judge absolutely killed me. I loved Robert Downey Jr. In fact, I loved this entire movie–all 141 minutes of it. But I don’t think I’ll ever feel emotionally equipped to watch it again.
The story is about Hank Palmer, a big-shot lawyer in Chicago whose manipulative approach to the law has made him notorious for helping guilty clients walk away from tricky situations. When his mother dies, he travels back to his hometown for the funeral where he must confront his estranged father and face mistakes from his past that he hoped to leave buried. The story becomes complicated when his father, a respected judge in the community with a reputation for valuing justice above all else, is accused of murdering a criminal he once let off with a slap on the wrist (with disastrous consequences).
At times I have trouble forgetting that Robert Downey Jr. is an actor with celebrity-status. When I see him on the screen, it’s difficult to see the character he is trying to portray because he is so recognizable. And it doesn’t help that he seems to maintain the same cocky, attractive, flippant attitude in all of his roles. But in this film the story overpowered that distraction a hundred times over. It was engaging, surprising, funny, touching, and unpredictable. It combined moments of humour with elements of tragedy and made the audience second-guess their assumptions over and over again.
It was a long movie, even by today’s standards, but I don’t think any of it could have been left out, because each scene was absolutely necessary to the journey of the characters. There were a lot of layers to uncover, and each scene gives a little more insight into their motivations and the personal histories that have led them to this moment. It was the same feeling I get when reading a really great book that I don’t want to put down, even though it’s making me cry.
And trust me, this movie will make you cry. If not when the granddaughter arrives, then when the judge takes the stand, and if not then, you’ll be done by the scene on the boat. It’s a hard movie to watch, but it’s also a beautiful story with some amazing performances. Worth the cost of the tissues.