Movie Review: The Judge

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Family Dysfunction.

In a nutshell, that’s what the Palmer family has felt with for decades. Hank is at the center of it all, ruining his brother’s baseball career… constantly fighting with his father (the Judge- as his sons call him)… and dealing with a crumbling marriage. So, when the big shot lawyer gets a call that his mother passed away, he has to go back to the small town from where he grew up, and meet everyone again. Things go terribly, as anticipated. Just as Hank begins to leave, he gets a call from his brother, saying their dad, the town Judge, is begin accused of murder.

Hank wants to defend his dad, but his father is having none of it. Both are to proud to admit they need each other, and we watch this drama play out in this moving piece. Simply called- “The Judge”.

Things I Liked

Dads are so important in our lives, and especially so to sons. Above anything else, this movie shows us how crucial they are, and how much sons, even if they don’t show it, love their fathers. Everything the Judge does was in the best of interests for his son. But due to his method of always justice and never mercy, Hank feels like his father never approved of him. “I didn’t need juvenile detention!” Hank cries at one point in the film “I needed you!“. When we finally see their relationship resolved, it is a touching thing to behold.

When the Judge is accused of murder, he insists that he stick to the simple truth of his account. Hank on the other hand, being the slick lawyer from New York, insists that they spin it the story to the Judge’s favor. The Judge refuses, and we see the consequences of the choice to remain honest not only just, but also rewarding in the end. Rarely is such respect for truth shown in a movie these days, but this one definitely commended the fact of “The Truth is more important than the consequence.”

Another amazing theme portrayed here is the power of forgiveness between brothers. Ever since the day Hank ruined his brother’s baseball career, their relationship was shattered. Years of bitterness between the two has resulted in the two unable to even carry on a conversation without them bursting into argument and cursing. An event happens though that eliminates that bitterness, and allows for forgiveness, and when that happens we see brothers begin to interact in the way they should.

Pride is the greatest divider in this movie, and every single guy in the Palmer family has a bucketful. We see what power it has to divide, but moreso the power humility has to mend. When each man humbles himself, we not only begin to see relationships begin to heal, but they become to make decisions which are selfless. It is so true “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted”, and it was great to see this message shown.

Things I Didn’t Like

This film’s R rating comes from its proficient use of profanities and strong language. When Hank and his dad get into arguments, filth flies. While it is purposefully, and realistically, used to convey the anger and pain in the family, the easily two dozen uses of the F-Word is flinch worthy regardless the context.

Hank makes out with two women, and each clip is about 5-10 seconds in length. He also kisses the girls many times, even though he is married. There is sexual innuendo regarding both genders. Hank pees on another lawyer in passive aggressive spite. Another time Hank gives his mentally challenged brother his wallet, and he simply states “There’s a naked lady in here.” We don’t see the pic, but Hank says “Yeah, it’s a fun wallet.

Perhaps the saddest message of the movie is Hank’s dying marriage. In all the greatness we see resolved with his family in Indiana, we see him cast his wife by the wayside. In a heartwarming car ride with his young daughter, she speaks a statement that hits us right in the gut. “It happened to Betsy, it happened to Rachel… I guess I never thought it would happen to me.” Even in the clear view of how destructive Divorce is, especially to children, Hank tosses it away because he ultimately believes he can’t be happy with his wife (who did cheat on him) again.

Closing Thoughts

“You, and you alone are responsible for your actions” ~The Judge~

Watching this drama with the greats such as Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duval, one will quickly see this movie is not about a courtroom. This film is about family, and lawyering merely the means to make it interesting. Garnering a rightly deserved “R”, some critics from Rotten Tomatoes are calling it “Cliche”, “Predictable”. and “Old Fashioned”. In some ways, they are right. We are not entreated to any groundbreaking ideas or amazing plot twists. Since when however, did old fashioned become such a bad thing?

Because honestly, old fashioned this tale is. It is an unashamedly raw story about a dad, his son, and the bitterness they’ve carried with them all their life. It deals with real life issues we’ve all faced or seen. It touches on timeless themes of forgiveness, fatherhood, pride, and loss. Masterfully portrayed in a “Mayberry” small town setting, we harken back to the days we consider to have been more simple, more innocent.

We all know though, the real world is not simple, nor innocent. This is what we are reminded of and shown between Hank, his dad, and his family. We see them tear each other apart through words flung mercilessly at each other. We see the pain of what bitterness does to a brother. We see the love of an imperfect father, and the longing of a full grown son to just be accepted my his dad. The family is hurting, crying out for forgiveness, but that reconciliation is stifled because of the pride which they all have.

Until something happens which rocks their entire world. Their mother’s death wasn’t enough, so another act comes along which finally, breaks Hank and humbles his father. Then, and only then, do we begin to see the light which this film contains.  It is often said the night is darkest before the dawn. The saying is certainly true in this movie. Once this light starts to shine though, you just can’t put it out. We are shown the beauty of forgiveness, the power of truth, and the peace of acceptance.

While the film is far from perfect, and obviously so. The immoral content though, is not what the film left me dwelling upon. It left me dwelling first and foremost on how blessed I was to have such an amazing father, but moreso a Christ centered family. I rejoiced in the forgiveness shown, what the decision of a man’s choice to remain honest yielded, and was moved to tears by what a humbled man will do to reconcile a relationship.

The end of this film is not one which leaves you warm and bubbly. Nor is it one which leaves you feeling lost and empty. It is an end which shows that life is painful and relationships hard, while at the same time showing no relationship, even one decades old, is to far gone for reconciliation. Sometimes though- it is a long, painful, and soul shattering journey to get there.

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