The Judge

The Judge Information

The Judge is a 2014 American drama film directed by David Dobkin. The film stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Lancaster, and Billy Bob Thornton. The film was released in the United States on October 10, 2014. It received mixed reviews; critics praised the performances of Downey and Duvall but criticized the formulaic nature of its script and the lack of development for its supporting characters.


Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful defense attorney living in Chicago who has been estranged from his family in a small town in Indiana for several years. His brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) calls with news that their mother has died. As he leaves his home to fly to his family, it emerges that he is going through a divorce with his wife and a custody battle is under way for his young daughter. Hank flies to Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral. He reunites with his brothers Glen, an owner of a car tire shop, and Dale (Jeremy Strong), a mentally handicapped man with an obsession for making films. Hank sees his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), in his courtroom, presiding over a case.

After his wife's funeral, Joseph goes shopping while the brothers catch up with each other. The next morning Hank notices damage to his father's Cadillac Eldorado as he is preparing to leave. While on the plane to return home to Chicago, he is called by Glen who informs him that their father is being questioned by the police about a fatal hit and run. It turns out that blood was found on Joseph's car which matches that of the victim, Mark Blackwell, who the judge once sentenced to 30 days in jail and who then went on to kill a 16-year-old girl. The judge regrets this decision and it is later revealed that he gave a light sentence because Blackwell reminded him of Hank as a troubled teenager. Joseph is taken to court as the sole suspect.

Unresolved issues between Joseph and Hank means Hank is not immediately chosen to represent his father despite being the obvious choice. A local inexperienced lawyer with a law degree from Valparaiso University (Dax Shepard) is chosen, but after a disastrous preliminary hearing Joseph comes to his senses and employs his son. Hank says he is doing it to fill his 'pro bono quota'. The judge's story proves to have some inconsistencies and he claims to not be able to remember hitting Blackwell, but this is mostly due to the chemotherapy he is undergoing which he has hidden from everyone but his wife. Prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) pushes for first degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Between the trials, Hank reconnects with his old girlfriend Sam (Vera Farmiga), who he abandoned after going to a Metallica concert more than 20 years ago, and discovers that she has a daughter, Carla (Leighton Meester), born nine months after he left. Hank suspects that Carla is in fact his daughter, but it turns out the father is actually Glen. During the legal process, various conflicts from the characters' pasts are revealed, and resolved. Despite Hank's attempts to paint Joseph as confused and senile, the judge is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter but cleared of murder charges, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Joseph is released from prison on compassionate parole, after serving seven months. He and Hank go fishing at the old watering hole. After recognizing Hank as the best lawyer he knows, Joseph suddenly dies in the boat. After the funeral, Hank notices the courtroom's flag is flying at half staff contrary to his father's expectations that his legacy would be tarnished if he were found guilty. Hank, his daughter, and many members of the community gather to pay their respects to the judge at Sam's diner. Hank leaves the diner early to go to the courthouse alone. He puts his father's hat on the bench and spins the judge's chair, while he stands contemplating. When the chair stops, it is facing him, as if to invite him to take his father's place.




The script was originally written by Nick Schenk. In March 2011, the script was to be rewritten by David Seidler. In April 2013, Bill Dubuque was enlisted to rewrite it. The casting of Robert Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, and Dax Shepard was reported in March 2013. The studios had expressed an interest in Jack Nicholson playing Downey's character's father, but as he turned down the role and it was given to Duvall. Meester joined the cast in April 2013.


Principal photography started on May 31, 2013 in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Shooting also took place in Attleboro, Belmont, Dedham, Sunderland, and Waltham, Massachusetts. Scenes also were filmed in Pennsylvania and Worcester, Massachusetts. The film is set in the fictional town of Carlinville, Indiana. Filming was also done at It's About Time Clocks and Antiques store in Millers Falls, Massachusetts. It is the actual location of the antique store in the movie.


On February 27, 2014, Thomas Newman was hired to compose the music for the film. WaterTower Music released a soundtrack album on October 7, 2014.


The film was shown at the opening night of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 4, 2014. It was premiered in Los Angeles on October 1 at the Beverly Hills' Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The film was released on October 10, 2014 in the United States.


Critical reception

The Judge has received mixed reviews from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 47% based on 165 reviews, with an average score of 5.6/10, however, 79% of users liked it. The site's consensus states: "Solidly cast and beautifully filmed but thoroughly clichd, The Judge seems destined to preside over a large jurisdiction of the basic cable afternoon-viewing circuit." On Metacritic gives the film a rating of 48 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Film critic Richard Roeper gave the film a "C" rating, saying that it was "surprising how little we care about these characters."


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2014 Hollywood Music in Media Awards Best Original Score - Feature Film Thomas Newman
Mill Valley Film Festival Best U.S. Feature Film The Judge (David Dobkin)
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture
Hollywood Film Awards Supporting Actor of the Year Robert Duvall
19th Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Best Original Score Thomas Newman
2015 72nd Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture Robert Duvall
21st Screen Actors Guild Awards Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

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