Blu-ray Review Drama

Blu-ray Review: The Judge

January 28, 2015Ben MK

Drama in the first...

Based solely on its title, it's understandable if moviegoers might mistake The Judge for just another courtroom drama. But with a powerhouse cast that includes the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga and Robert Duvall, the film is much more than your ordinary legal potboiler. Its director, David Dobkin, is best known for his comedic body of work; and while there are certainly comedic aspects to The Judge, the movie is really a character drama of the highest order — one that's all about family, owning up to our mistakes, and finding redemption in the eyes of those we love.


The Film Hank Palmer (Downey) is a cocky, fast-talking Chicago attorney who appears to have it all: a successful career, a big house and a fancy car, not to mention a beautiful wife (Sarah Lancaster) and a precocious daughter (Emma Tremblay). Little does anyone realize, however, that Hank's professional swagger is nothing more than a carefully constructed visage designed to mask the turmoil swirling within his personal life, which includes a crumbling marriage and a painful family history.

But no one can outrun their past forever, something Hank learns firsthand when he receives word of his mother's death. It's news that prompts him to pack his bags and return to a place he never imagined ever setting foot in again: his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana.

His older brother, Glen (D'Onofrio), and younger brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong), haven't seen Hank in ages. Neither has his ex-girlfriend, Sam Powell (Farmiga), whom he walked out on some 25 years earlier without so much as a goodbye. But it's his estranged father, Joseph (Duvall), the town's long-serving and highly-esteemed judge, that Hank dreads reuniting with the most (for reasons that shall be revealed later in the film). So when Joseph is charged in a fatal hit-and-run and Hank finds himself pressured into defending him against the charge of first-degree murder, you can be sure the tension will be palpable on-screen.

There's much, much more that can be said about The Judge's multilayered storyline. However, it's all but impossible to engage in any in-depth discussion of the movie's dense, interwoven narrative without spoiling crucial plot points. Suffice to say, the courtroom drama — while thoroughly gripping in its own right — most definitely takes a backseat to the character drama, which revolves largely around the story's central father-son relationship, Hank's unresolved guilt over a youthful act of recklessness, and a potential paternity bombshell.

Joining the already impressive cast are Dax Shepard as Hank's laughably inexperienced co-counsel, C.P. Kennedy, Billy Bob Thornton as a ruthless prosecuting attorney named Dwight Dickham, and Leighton Meester as Sam's college-aged daughter, Carla, all of whom fill their roles nicely. However, it should come as no surprise that it's Downey and Duvall who command moviegoers' full attention here, delivering a pair of riveting performances that's extremely effective at drawing the audience into their characters' tenuous bond, and keeping us entranced until the story's poignant conclusion.

Audio/Visual Fidelity The Judge is a relatively low-key A/V affair, but rest assured: whether it be its interior courtroom scenes or outdoor scenes set in the streets of Carlinville (in reality, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts), the film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. Lensed by frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski and shot primarily on 35mm, the hi-def image exhibits noticeable film grain and is also top-notch in most every regard. Fine details are highly resolved, blacks are deep, contrast is strong, the color palette is robust, and there are no distracting image defects to mar this otherwise superb transfer. As for the film's soundstage, it's composed primarily of dialogue, and the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack excels at bringing it to life with impeccable clarity, alongside the music of composer Thomas Newman's score and a handful of environmental sound effects (chirping birds, blowing winds, even the blare of a tornado siren).

Special Features In addition to the inclusion of DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film, Warner's Blu-ray release touts a Commentary by David Dobkin, as well as 50 minutes of HD special features. Inside The Judge is a 22-minute piece that has Downey, his wife Susan (one of the film's producers), D'Onofrio, Strong, Farmiga, Shepard, Duvall and Dobkin casually discussing various aspects of the film, including its themes, the rehearsal process and their acting methods. It's followed by Getting Deep with Dax Shepard, a 9-minute compilation of Shepard's mock on-set interviews with Downey, Thornton and D'Onofrio. Then there are 18 minutes of Deleted Scenes (eleven in total), viewable with or without commentary by director David Dobkin. As for Dobkin's commentary on the feature itself, it's a somewhat slow-paced track, but one that has the director touching on a variety of worthwhile topics, including the story's origins, the original 4-hour assembly cut, the actors' performances and the true meaning behind the movie's title.

The Bottom Line Robert Downey Jr. may never fully escape the gravitational pull of his alter ego, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), but his performance in The Judge certainly comes close. Of course, RDJ does have a little help in this case: director David Dobkin has assembled one of the strongest groups of dramatic actors in recent memory, and it all pays off immensely well on-screen. So, does The Judge receive a fair trial on Blu-ray? Considering the disc features a stellar audio and video presentation and is topped off with a few interesting bonus features, the answer is a resounding "yes".  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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