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.

 

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is a good action adventure procedural with a plotline that gets a bit convoluted. But everything works out in the end, with some help from a friend.

This film’s big problem is that it begins with a sniper using a high-powered rifle to take out five individuals. Should its release have been delayed after Newtown? Stay tuned for the blowback.

The sniper sets up in a Pittsburgh parking garage and shoots across the Allegheny River with deadly accuracy. When evidence points to one particular guy, that guy (a former military sniper) writes on a pad, “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, is a former Army policeman with a sketchy background who sets out to find the real killer.

He gets help from the district attorney’s estranged daughter, played by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike. The DA is played by Richard Jenkins, who is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most dependable character actors. The daughter, Helen, claims her law firm wants to represent the alleged perp because her dad intimidates too many suspects into forced confessions. Flimsy reason, but without it, the film would have no blonde babe eye candy.

Reacher and Helen gather info on the victims and analyze the evidence. Meanwhile, they are forced to deal with bad guys who want to take them out of the picture, for reasons to be revealed later. Of course there’s a chase scene and it’s a good one that ends with Reacher’s clever escape.

Based on the alleged perp’s charge card bills, which show large gasoline purchases on weekends, Reacher suspects the guy had been driving to distant shooting ranges. Voila! When he finds the range where the guy shot targets, he gets vital information from and forms a vital association with the guy who runs the range, played by Robert Duvall.

As things get sorted out in the end, Duvall’s character provides an important helping hand and a spark of humor.

Wait, was there something missing in this movie? Yes! There’s no love scene between Cruise and Pike! Not even a kiss! The sexual tension that builds between them throughout the movie remains unfulfilled. Maybe something will happen in Jack Reacher II. (Yes, this feels like the first in a series.)

One more thing: I’ve never thought of Pittsburgh as a cool city. But the Steel Town looks good in this film, as well as in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Dark Knight Rises. But that Iron City Beer still sucks.