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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Judge (Blu-ray)
The Judge (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // January 27, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted January 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

David Dobkin's The Judge is the kind of stuffed-to-the-brim drama that draws critical guff. You're not going to find that here. I'm a sucker for legal showdowns, father-son melodrama and fine acting, and this film fits the bill. Sure, it pulls on the heartstrings and the courtroom revelations are not exactly unexpected, but Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are worthy adversaries and provide good performances. Downey plays a hotshot Chicago lawyer who returns home for his mother's funeral to discover his estranged father is the prime suspect in a murder. Duvall's longtime judge is an unforgiving man who initially rebukes his son's help, but relents when Billy Bob Thornton's prosecutor brings the case to trial.

Downey plays Hank Palmer with a bit of Tony Stark arrogance, rolling over the Chicago prosecutors in his expensive suit. Things are not great at home, though, and Palmer is ready to leave his cheating wife when he gets the call about his mom. He travels to Indiana and is met by brothers Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) before catching a glimpse of his dad at work from the courthouse balcony. Judge Joseph Palmer is none too pleased to see his son, but assures him his mother would appreciate his attendance at the funeral. Palmer is on the plane home when he gets a call from Glen that the Judge is down at the police station answering questions about a fatal accident. Palmer suspects his dad is boozing again, and returns to assess the damage. The elder Palmer's Cadillac Coupe de Ville is damaged, and a man the Judge once sentenced to 30 years in prison is dead.

The Judge mixes courtroom drama with melodrama. Downey and Duvall square off about the case as Palmer's inexperienced co-counsel (Dax Shepard) tries to mediate. Hank reconnects with old flame Sam (Vera Farmiga) and bonds with his brothers, while Judge Palmer goes about his business without much concern for the pending trial. This hometown stuff is not particularly memorable, but Downey's quick wit and genuine emotions float the formulaic material. The story is a not-bad exploration of what happens when a once-troubled son leaves home, makes it big, and never looks back. There is regret, resentment and retribution, and The Judge manages to do all this without a particularly heavy hand. The interplay between Downey, D'Onofrio and Strong is good, as are scenes with Hank's young daughter (Emma Tremblay) and her grandfather.

Dobkin (Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers) steps out of his comedic comfort zone here to good results. The Judge is an unexpectedly great-looking film. Dobkin and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski use natural light and shadow to capture the action. A lesser director might have settled for a static, boring presentation, but Dobkin uses each frame to set the mood and enhance the drama. The film remains in perpetual forward motion, and, even at 142 minutes, never drags. There are no earthshattering surprises, sure, but The Judge is consistently engaging.

The courtroom scenes are well constructed and fairly believable. It appears someone actually observed a real courtroom before shooting The Judge and realized TV-drama mischief rarely occurs in real life. My career choice makes it difficult to suspend disbelief when I see inaccurate cross examinations and outrageous evidence being allowed, but The Judge never goes there. The connection between the victim, Judge Palmer and Hank is subtle and my favorite aspect of the film. Acting is probably effortless for the leads at this point, but each is pitch perfect. The Judge may not be a future classic, but it is a worthy showcase for Downey and Duvall's talents.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

There are a couple of ticks with this 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that are probably the result of Dobkin and Kaminski's stylistic choices. Highlights tend to blow out, particularly in outdoor scenes, and black crush is occasionally an issue. Otherwise, detail is plentiful in close-ups and wide shots; texture is abundant in fabrics and the courtroom dressings; and skin tones are natural. I noticed only minor shimmering and saw no trace of digital tinkering.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is relatively restrained, which is expected given the material, but it does a nice job highlighting quieter effects and dialogue. Ambient effects surround the viewer, dialogue is crystal clear whether delivered from the center or surround channels, and the range is excellent. The score is mixed appropriately, too. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subs.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The discs are packed in an eco-case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include an informative Audio Commentary from Director David Dobkin; Inside The Judge (22:16/HD), a decent making-of; Getting Deep with Dax Shepard (9:21/HD), a funny mock-interview piece with the actor; and Deleted Scenes (18:28/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are fine adversaries in David Dobkin's drama, which blends legal intrigue and family melodrama. The material is somewhat formulaic, but the fine acting and attractive presentation make up for this. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great and features a couple of nice extras. Highly Recommended.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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