A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Judge -- which stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall -- is an engrossing drama/legal thriller that covers some fairly mature, emotionally taxing terrain, including family estrangement, murder, power struggles, divorce, the death of a parent, and the emotions of the mourning process. But it also has themes of forgiveness and redemption. Characters swear frequently (including "a--hole," "s--t," and "f--k") and drink a fair bit, sometimes going overboard. Parents argue in front of and with their grown children, and a plot line about a murder includes shots of a mangled car and discussions of how a crime might have taken place. There's also some kissing/groping and a scene in which a woman talks about pleasuring herself.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) -- a highly successful but sometimes entirely too slick defense attorney -- would never dream of going back to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana. But filial duty calls after his beloved mother passes away, calling for a face-to-face between Hank and his older brother, Glenn (Vincent D'Onofrio), a gifted athlete who wound up never leaving home; his developmentally disabled younger brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong), who's forever carrying around a Super 8 camera and recording every family moment, including the saddest ones; and their father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town judge, who seems to have a soft spot for everyone but Hank. Then, when a recently paroled criminal whom Joseph sent to jail is found dead by the side of the road, the magistrate winds up the main suspect, leaving Hank with no choice but to be his fearsome father's counsel and ultimately deal with his family's divisions.
Is it any good?
There's no doubt that Downey Jr. can deliver on pretty much any role he takes on. In THE JUDGE, he imbues Hank with a certain cynicism that only he could get away with without making the main character entirely unlikable. And likability is important here, because Hank wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. He's arrogant, cocksure, and difficult in his own right.
The fact that the film's characters are complicated actually heightens its appeal. But Downey -- and, by extension, the film, since his character is so central to it -- might feel just a little too slick. There's a knowing sheen here that points to a self consciousness about the movie being a type of crowd-pleasing thriller, one that milks all the right emotional notes. But there's no false note in Duvall's performance. He allows the titular judge to be difficult to like, at best. There's one particular scene in which his character is subjected to the indignities of age and illness, and Duvall goes to all the necessary dark corners. To watch him and Downey, who's best when he's paired with Duvall, is to witness a master acting class.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Judge's messages. What is it saying about family bonds? Who do you think the film is intended to appeal to? How can you tell?
What is the movie saying about forgiveness, especially when it comes to family?
Talk about the idea of family and estrangement and how the judge deals with it differently or similarly to other movies in the same genre. How would you characterize the Palmers? Are they close to each other? Are they bonded?
- In theaters: October 10, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 27, 2015
- Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
- Director: David Dobkin
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including some sexual references
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.