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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Watering the Hydrangeas

The Judge

Plot Overview

Two unshaven lawyers have a pissing contest in the Chicago courthouse mens' room, but in court the judge grants a continuance so the one lawyer Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) can go to Carlin­ville, Indiana for his mother's funeral. There his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who's just lost his wife of fifty years has a pissing contest in a convenience store with an ex-con who'd just finished the twenty year sentence the judge had given him. Hank prolongs his stay in order to defend his dad from the murder rap of the road kill that night. While there Hank reconnects with his old high school girl­friend Samantha (Vera Famiga) who now has a daughter Carla (Leighton Meester) of an undisclosed father. Hank absently does the math, between their last tryst and the kid's birth: “June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, Fuck!” It's enough to give a film an R rating, not that there aren't enough other contributions: “This family's a fuckin' Picasso painting!”

It's a matter of timing. The store's security tape shows the victim bicycling off to the left and the judge driving off to the right. The judge's story is that he turned around at the mill where the road was washed out. That would have taken nine minutes to return in the opposite direction, but the tape shows him going by in five, which looks like murderous intent. Those four minutes can hang a man. It's like Samantha's story of the flying deer that leaped over her car: a second earlier and the deer would have been history. For that matter the vehicular homicide was a Craw­ford County Sheriff juris­diction. Crawford County sits right on the border­line between the Eastern Time and Central Time zones in Indiana, a line that has migrated west over the years. My guess is that the judge in his eighty-two years went from one time zone to the other while staying put; the times having changed around him. In his job he had to live with his decision to show leniency when it turned out he needed to have given the perp 180 days to cool off, not just 30. The lawyers discuss how they shouldn't be too personally invested in their clients. Like­wise a father needs to know when to distance him­self from his growing children to let them live with their own decisions. For that matter there was a little bit of leeway in the nine months for Samantha to have had another hookup, maybe. It's a matter of timing that needed to get sorted out.


Just as an art aficionado might find himself confused by the colors and angles of a Picasso painting, the Christian movie­goer might wish for simplicity in any scriptural application from this busy movie. I suggest the bottom line of one of the minor prophets; (Micah 6:8) “… and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” The judge was intro­duced dispensing home town justice to “Mr. Turnip” who on account of the lacka­daisical job market wished to be clear of financial respon­sibility for the child of his the woman in the court­room was carrying. Mercy was shown by the very first judge granting the lawyer a continuance for personal reasons. Walking “humbly with thy God” is more a case of conforming to the small-town ethos despite self-interest, per the (repeated) phrase, “Yes, but I have to live here.”

One of the mothers recognized Hank, saying, “I recognize you. You're no altar boy.” Carlin­ville is described as a “corn­belt Bible-banging back­water.” Hank coming back says, “Nothing changes.” Despite the movie's rough edges, one may see in it an ideal of walking humbly with one's God as would an “altar boy” in a “Bible-banging back­water” where “nothing changes.” The Bible will not have changed, and he'll be banging the same Book as did his parents and grand­parents, having nailed it, despite what­ever new gonzo versions have come along since. The mother was honored in burial as a beloved daughter, wife, and mother, rather than, say, a woman who competed with men in their careers. Samantha, in fact, watches Hank's macho display in mute amuse­ment rather than assist him through her own success. Judge Palmer offers to explain to the woman in his first scene, the cause of her “condition” (She's obviously showing.) Procreation is a result of having sex, which is the province of (monog­amous hetero­sexual) marriage for those walking humbly with their God. In a society where men “marry younger” and regard their mates some­what below their dogs, the judge had married a winner who (from her tomb­stone dates) was a year or two older than he. Life's disap­pointments and set­backs are also taken in stride by those humbly walking with God. There's lots of good material in this movie to illustrate this particular point.

Production Values

“The Judge” (2014) was directed by David Dobkin. Its writing was a corroboration of Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque, and David Dobkin. It stars Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, and Vera Farmiga, with sup­porting cast including Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepherd, and Billy Bob Thorton. The acting is all top drawer.

The movie is rated R for language including some sexual references. Thomas Newman's soundtrack is okay, although it does draw attention to itself. Willie Nelson closes on the credits with a wobbly rendition of Cold­play's “The Scientist.”

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I liked the homespun turns of phrases the characters came up with, but I was some­what put off by their foul language at times, which seemed to me more a big city influence of people who can't express them­selves any better, although it was used where people might normally curse who were inclined to. It's a compound plot with a lot left technic­ally unresolved, although we can surmise where it likely went. It's more a small town drama than a legal thriller. The best thing about this movie is one really cares for the characters in it, except for one outright villain. Even the high priced city lawyer who admits, “I respect the law just fine; I'm just not encumbered by it,” shows promise of reform through redis­covering his small town roots. Up to now (“You're a shined up wooden nickel, Mr Palmer”) he'd been in bed with rich criminals, reminiscent of one of Patrick Robinson's lawyer characters: (29, 30, 43)

Josh Epstein … had a stupendously profitable sideline representing some of the most brutal jihadist killers on the planet. … And he could hardly disguise his joy when that e-mail came ghosting in from London's cyber­space appointing him to head up what might be a truly lucrative appeals court team. … Thus, through the quivering communi­cations of cyber­space were the hopes and needs of the jihadist terrorists and Josh Epstein married together.

It's just that Hank was called on his cell to the sad funeral of his virtuous mom rather than to a gay marriage with his affluent clients.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Bible quotation from the King James Version, pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Robinson, Patrick. Intercept. New York: Vanguard Press, 2010. Print.