The Judge

 

The two Roberts are terrific in The Judge. The rest of the movie is pretty good, too!

An estrangement between a parent and child is a painful thing to observe and, for those who have that situation in their lives, the hurt lingers every day. In the case of Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) and his father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), the reasons for the resentments each carries appear, on surface, to be justified. But a series of events has the potential to result in healing of their emotional wounds.

Hank is a hot-shot Chicago defense attorney who learns that his mother has died. He returns to his small hometown in Indiana for the funeral and tense dealings with his father who has been the town’s judge for 42 years. On the evening following his wife’s funeral, the judge kills a man in a hit-and-run. As Hank prepares to return to Chicago, his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) calls to tell him that their dad has been charged with a crime.

The judge/dad/Joseph chooses as his lead attorney local yokel C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard), an antiques dealer who just happens to have a law degree. C.P’s shortcomings are quickly exposed and in short order, Hank takes over.

Courtroom scenes have famously provided opportunities for talented actors to strut their stuff and give memorable performances. The two Roberts do not miss their chances to bring their best. With Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecutor and Ken Howard as judge, father Joseph takes the witness stand and son Hank does his best to create doubt about his father’s part in the incident.

The Judge provides laughter among the tension. The jury selection process is fun and C.P.’s ritual of puking before each courtroom session lightens the mood.

During his time back in town, Hank, whose marriage in Chicago is troubled, reunites with old hometown girlfriend Samantha (Vera Farmiga). The attraction is still there.

The Judge contains a particularly gorgeous shot, taken from a copter or a drone, that shows Hank at the wheel of his car before the camera pulls back to show a panorama of unending verdant farmland.

The Judge is longish, clocking in around 2:20. But the complicated relationship between the father and son merits the time spent for examination of past events and current circumstances that have brought them to this point in their lives. The two Roberts make The Judge a movie worth seeing.

 

This Is Where I Leave You

 

This Is Where I Leave You tries hard but falls short. The film waffles between being a story about Judd’s (Jason Bateman) breakup with his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) and being an ensemble piece about a family whose father/husband has just died. It tries to be a comedy but is only partially successful. It tries to touch our emotions but is only partially successful.

The cast of TIWILY is impressive. The adult children of Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda) are Judd, Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stall) and Phillip (Adam Driver). Kathryn Hahn plays Paul’s wife Alice. Connie Britton is Phillip’s lover, Tracy. Wendy’s husband Barry (Aaron Lazar) gets very little face time.

The movie opens with Judd catching his wife cheating with his boss (Dax Shepard) who is an outrageous testosterone-fueled satellite radio host. This is where he leaves his wife. Soon after, dad leaves his family behind. So there’s your title.

When the siblings come home to bury their dad, mom tells them that his last wish was that the 4 of them spend a full week in the house. One might expect hilarity to ensue here, but the humor is weak and the film is not as funny as hoped for. TIWILY has its moments, but the overall chuckle factor is rather low on the scale.

Yes, there are those relatable family moments when long-buried memories and resentments resurface. There are those moments when perceptive family members figure out that another isn’t being completely honest. There are reconnections with the past, including Judd’s fling with Penny (Rose Byrne) who just happens to be working at the family’s sporting goods store.

Shawn Levy, who directed the Night At The Museum movies, Date Night and one of my kids’ favorites, Big Fat Liar, is director for TIWILY. He does a nice job of squeezing in numerous characters and plot points with only a handful of each getting shortchanged.

I keep comparing this film with 2005’s The Family Stone, which presented both the emotional moments and the funny stuff better. This Is Where I Leave You is not a “bad” film. If you’re a fan of Jason Bateman or Tina Fey, you’ll enjoy seeing them onscreen. But TIWILY is a middle-of-the-pack movie that, for me, inspires deep feelings of indifference.