Thursday, October 23, 2014

Judging the Judge

With a superb cast, a tout story line and an amazing ending, The Judge delivers a wisely written drama about family dysfunction and healing, and of choosing a spiritual legacy.

Hank Palmer, played by Robert Downey, Jr., is a crafty defense attorney. Although successful professionally with a pedigree from Northwestern Law, he is estranged from his wife. In fact, most of Hank's relationships have suffered for years: he is mostly absent from his parents' and brothers' lives.   

My favorite for 2014!
Hank's father, Joseph Palmer, a small town Indiana judge, is played brilliantly by Robert Duvall. Much of the movie is about Duvall's character, why he is the way he is, which indirectly, tells us alot about Hank. It's only during the visit home for his mother's funeral that we have a sense of movement in the relationship between Hank and the Judge.

The Judge becomes a suspect in a hit and run fatality. But while Hank is at home and available, the Judge decides that a local lawyer will defend him. Hank insists on defending his father, and so the dance between these two gets interesting.

There are many twists and turns in this father-son, attorney-client relationship, to see how the principled judge and less scrupulous son configure the defense of the case. There are other variables thrown  into the story: the Judge's drinking again after many years of sobriety- and his quickly declining health.

I'm reminded of something Robert Capon once wrote that has seared into my consciousness: everyone of us loves their children- and all of us will do something to screw them up. It seems the movie does not miss this basic paradox in father-son relationships.

The most anecdotal, formulaic aspect was the treatment of Hank's romantic life: for the trouble in his marriage, there's the quick fix of an old crush and an old romance- either, waiting to save him. No, it isn't the law of the universe- nor of real life- that there is, or will be, anyone waiting to save us from the pain of a lost or broken love. That happens only in the minds of writers or relationship addicts.
Finally, The Judge crystallizes key questions about a good life and death: What do we want to remembered for? What quality of relationships are we  leaving behind? How will we close our accounts? How do we wish to die? How then shall we live- here, now?  

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