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Still shot from the movie: The Judge.

The Judge

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) takes on the toughest court case of his life when he decides to defend his estranged father (Robert Duvall) --who also happens to be a judge -- after the aging man is accused of murder.

Overall Grade: C+
Violence: B-
Sexual Content: C+
Language: D
Drugs/Alcohol: C+
Release Date: 10 Oct 2014
Run Time: 141
MPAA Rating: R

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In-Depth Review

There are a lot of dislikable traits surrounding the tough skinned protagonist in The Judge. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hardened, high priced lawyer who takes pride in defending criminals he knows are guilty. “Innocent people can’t afford me,” he quips after a prosecuting attorney makes some critical remarks in the men’s restroom. For good measure Hank urinates on him as well.

After this opening scene it’s hard to imagine more reasons to boot him off your Facebook friends list, yet as this story unfolds we discover no end to his nastiness: He has been a rotten father to his daughter (Emma Tremblay). He has ignored his wife (Sarah Lancaster). And before the movie ends he will have a make out session with a woman half his age (Leighton Meester) only to discover her mother (Vera Farmiga) is an old high school girlfriend. So he makes out with her as well. And remember, he’s still not divorced.

Still, the real reason you paid to see this movie, and may perhaps leave the theater happy you did, is for the experience of watching Hank interact with his estranged father (Robert Duvall) and two brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong).

It is his mother’s funeral that brings Hank back to his hometown, where his father, Judge Joseph Palmer, has occupied the revered seat in the local courthouse for decades. He’s hoping to pay his respects and hop on a plane, but his intended short visit gets delayed when his father unexpectedly becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. The unforeseen circumstance offers the pompous big city lawyer an opportunity to both display his competence in the courtroom and validate himself in the eyes of his parent.

Not surprisingly, Dad isn’t so sure about Hank’s insistence on being the defending counsel until necessity forces the situation. The painful process of trying to form a working relationship with his son, while at the same time dealing with his own unrecognized and undisclosed limitations of aging, results in many scenes of confrontation peppered with over two-dozen sexual expletives and at least as many scatological, religious and crude terms.

In addition to profanity, other content concerns include the two brief sexual situations (in which characters are fully clothed), the use of alcohol and discussion of alcoholism. In another scene, a character struggling with a disease and problematic bowel functions is seen naked (without any explicit detail). Obviously not suitable for children, these warnings may be a moot issue because this movie is targeting middle-aged viewers and likely won’t appeal to teens.

In the heat of the battle, relationships are somewhat mended and characters are compelled to face unresolved difficulties in their lives. With a somewhat unexpected resolution, circumstances ensue that eventually instill a sincere paradigm shift within Hank, while delivering a satisfying ending to the patient audience.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: Many scenes depict verbal aggression and characters in conflict. A man is accused of killing a pedestrian with his car, we hear some details of the injuries and see the damaged car. A man deliberately urinates on another man. There is a depiction of slapping.

Sexual Content: Various sexual remarks and innuendo are heard. A man is seen “making out” with a woman in a phone booth. A man and woman begin kissing and embracing passionately. An incestuous relationship is implied. The unknown paternity of a child is discussed.

Language: The sexual expletive is used at least two-dozen times, sometimes in an aggressive or sexual context. Scatological slang, cursing and profanity are frequently hears. Developmental and homosexual slurs are included.

Alcohol / Drug Use: A character has dealt with alcoholism in the past. Characters are seen drinking in bars and residences.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

There are many reasons why relationships become estranged. Is it possible to receive peace from a family conflict without confronting the situation with the other party involved? Is it important to try to fix such issues?

How does aging change our outlook on life? Do some problems grow less important as years pass? Or are they more likely to become a greater concern? How have you worked to resolve conflicts with family and friends?

Is it wrong to defend someone in a court of law whom you know is guilty? Are there different degrees of guilt? Why is providing a defense lawyer to a guilty party a necessary part of our justice system?

Video alternatives

Other children face estranged fathers in People Like Us, Fly Away Home and Dear Frankie.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Judge
Release Date: 27 January 2015
The Judge releases to home video with the following extras:
- Commentary by David Dobkin
- Inside The Judge
- Getting Deep with Dax Shepard

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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