Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there's a dead hooker in a bathtub." - Hank Palmer in "The Judge"

Most children would wonder at some point in their lives why dads are so obstinate. Robert Duval as the father in "The Judge" is the epitome of this. His son, Hank Palmer, is a Chicago lawyer, infamous for defending rich and guilty clients. On the death of his mother, Hank visits his sleepy small hometown in Indiana. This is the beginning of a thrilling courthouse drama filled with dynamic dialogue and the acting prowess of Robert Duval and Robert Downing Jr. 

We know that things are not well between The Judge and Hank early on when his father and brothers go to the diner before his mother's funeral without  inviting him. Hank spits venom at his father who does not flinch at hurtling abuses back at his son. After his mother's funeral , an exasperated Hank boards the flight back to Chicago. The only thing that stops him from flying is a phone call from his brother. The Judge has been arrested for a hit and run case. The victim is someone that the judge had sentenced to jail twenty years ago. As the judge suffers from amnesia of the incident, Hank volunteers to defend his father. But, the judge stubbornly refuses and opts for a local lawyer.The best arguments are those where you relate to both sides and are confused as to who is right and who is wrong and this is exactly what you feel as  the father-son relationship is stretched thin with the father hating his son for not coming back home after college and the son retaliating for not being cared for. The poignancy of this hits us in a scene where the old man awakens in the middle of the night and cries out to his dead wife and Hank reaches out to him. The courtroom drama is exciting in the struggle between the judge who wants righteousness to win even if it means that he is arrested, while Hank battles for his father in the hope of rescuing him from a painful death in the prison.

Robert Duval as the judge is powerful, stubborn and vulnerable all at once. He portrays a man torn between his pride for being a morally just person and his decaying health in ways that in the hands of a lesser actor would have been reduced to cheap melodrama. Sometimes a silent man looking into his past, other times a father roughing up his son and yet other times a dying old man trying to grasp on his final days of dignity, Duval truly deserves the Oscar he has been nominated for.

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