If the sins of the father are said to be visited upon the son, what of the sins of the son? That's the enigma Warner Bros. Pictures' new drama “The Judge” tries to address.
Slick Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is set to pluck his latest white collar client from the State of Illinois’ prosecutorial clutches when he receives a message that his mother has just passed away. Hank has no contact with his dad, and his mom is the one person in his family—in his entire hometown—with whom he had remained in touch for the past 20 or so years. She is the only one, her death the only event, that can draw him home. What waits for him in idyllic Carlinville,
Indiana, however, is much more than a memorial service, and far from a warm welcome. And before he can make his escape, Hank is called back to defend his own estranged father, the town’s venerable judge of 42 years, who suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of the bench.
“No matter how old we are, within five minutes of walking back into our childhood home, we are exactly who we were when we left there,” says director and producer of “The Judge,” David Dobkin. “We fall back into those routines; we’re subject to the same behavior and communication patterns of our youth, the same unspoken misunderstandings and unresolved issues, however great or small, which wind up driving us for the rest of our lives.”
Pairing acting heavyweights Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall for the first time, the film seeks to explore the role reversal we all face, whether through emotion or circumstance, of having to parent our aging parents and come to terms with our own personal history. How we, as adults, suddenly find ourselves in unfamiliar familial territory, and how even the best intentions don’t always lead us to take the best course of action or, ultimately, generate the best results.
The primary relationship Dobkin wanted to explore was one between a strong patriarchal father and the son who had left home years ago and who, due to an ongoing, seemingly irreparable rift between them, had never returned to face all the skeletons in his boyhood closet.
Robert Duvall, who plays the tough-as-nails judge Joseph Palmer, says he readily signed on because “it was a smart script, very well written with wonderful characters—definitely an actors’ film. On top of that, I felt the people involved would be great to work with. David really brought his own passion and commitment to it in a very positive way, so it was an enticing project for me.”
“Joseph Palmer is a man who represents the old world, the old guard,” Dobkin says. “He’s about honor; he believes that how a man walks through life has everything to do with where he ends up and how he is remembered. His legacy, that he helped people, that he protected an ideal, is important to him. Hank, on the other hand, believes you do whatever you need to do to get to the top, and once you’re there and as long as it was legal, it’s okay, even if it was manipulative. As long as the court tells him he wins, he doesn’t care if his client actually did terrible things, or whether he has to do terrible things to help his client. The law decides whether he’s right or wrong. His father views this not as something to be proud of, but as just more bad behavior from the rebellious teen Hank was growing up.”
Robert Duvall acknowledges, “The Judge would rather go to prison than lose his honor, definitely. And that complicates things for his sons, especially for Hank, who subconsciously thinks he’ll win his dad’s approval by winning the case.”
Duvall enjoyed exploring such a complex character. “He has many contradictions, like we all do in life. He’s a family-oriented guy, and he loves his sons, but he always left the showing of affection to his wife, and now she’s gone. So he’s very deficient when it comes to relating to them on his own, particularly Hank.
They’ve had no contact for years; everything went through Hank’s mother, so they don’t have a way of interacting. And the Judge has never really forgiven Hank for something that happened in the past—or if he has, he can’t admit it, not even to himself, I’d suspect. So he gave me a lot of interesting things to work with, to find within myself.”
Downey praises his co-star, “I learned a lot from watching him just be so still and yet so commanding. I’m completely the opposite, we have very different styles. We all did, really. I got to see all these different ways of working come together and really gel, and I came away with an even deeper respect for the work thanks to this experience.”
Duvall admired the younger actor as well, citing, “He’s very, very talented, and he was relaxed and in control of both his performance and his off-camera work as a producer, so it was a pleasure for me.”
Opening across the Philippines on Oct. 22, 2014, “The Judge” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.