Hollywood@Home: The Judge

An estranged father and son are bound together by a murder trial in "The Judge."

An estranged father and son are bound together by a murder trial in “The Judge.”

The best thing I can say about “The Judge” is that I didn’t mind watching it. The movie, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall covered a lot of familiar territory, but it was a comfortable journey.

Hank Palmer (Downey, Jr.) is a hotshot Chicago defense attorney, who rarely loses a case. When he comes back to his hometown in Indiana for his mother’s funeral, his father (Duvall) is accused of fatal hit-and-run driving. Palmer’s father has been the local judge (the no-nonsense variety) for over four decades. He can’t remember whether he actually hit the victim or not because he’s been secretly getting chemotherapy for terminal cancer, affecting his memory.

Judge Palmer reckons he can’t plead guilty because his judgments over the past year or so would be called into question and quite likely overturned. Palmer wants his son to defend him “no questions asked” but that’s not good enough for Hank, who boasts he’s doing the work pro bono. So, the judge instead gets a local attorney (Dax Shepard), who then botches the preliminary hearing, resulting in a trial. The young Palmer then steps in.

Okay, that’s enough of the story. Not very original, right? More like an episode of TV’s “Perry Mason.” That’s okay. It’s the kind of legal drama that will keep you hooked while Palmer tries to reconnect with his estranged family.

One of the best things about “The Judge” is the film “looks” really nice. Good locations. Fairly interesting small-town folks. Familiar courtroom scenes. You know, comfortable, smooth, even pleasant at times.

I love to nitpick. So, here’s a mistake in my estimation. Dax Shepard’s character proudly states he’s a graduate of Valparaiso University’s law school. I am also a graduate of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. Attorney Hank Palmer says he’s never heard of Valpo. Well, I doubt an Indiana native with a degree in anything wouldn’t know about VU. Palmer says he went to Northwestern’s law school in Chicago. Still no excuse. That’s only 70 miles from Valparaiso’s law school. Yes, it’s a small thing I’m pointing out. I’m more amused at the mistake, than miffed.

Now, we’re back on course. Some reasons to see “The Judge.” It’s a decent mystery with nice performances by Downey, Jr. and Duvall. In fact, Duvall was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor. That’s a good reason to see it.

The film is nicely scored by the immensely talented Thomas Newman. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is above average. It’s a good-looking film, if not memorable. Grade: B-

Fast Facts:

Street Date: January 27, 2015

Formats: Blu-ray combo pack and DVD

Runtime: 142 minutes (didn’t seem that long)

Rated: “R” for language including some sexual references.

Released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Robert Downey, Jr. finds himself defending his father (Robert Duvall) in "The Judge."

Robert Downey, Jr. finds himself defending his father (Robert Duvall) in “The Judge.”