Monday, October 13, 2014

'The Judge': Why Critics and Movie Audiences Gave It Very Different Verdicts

I had been looking forward to the opening of The Judge for a while since I try to see every movie in which Billy Bob Thornton appears.

Bobby Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. aren't exactly chopped liver either.

Billy Bob Thornton has a relatively minor role in The Judge,
which revolves around the estranged father and son
played by Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr.
So I was surprised when the consensus of critics on Rotten Tomatoes was a dismissive 47% green splat, whereas real movie goers dished out a whopping 82% favorable rating (4.1 out of a possible 5 stars). Why the disparity?

After seeing the movie last night, I think I get it.

***SPOILER ALERT -- Stop reading if you have not yet seen The Judge***

The Judge is about as formulaic and feel good a movie as you can get in this post modern age. Instead of having one of those artsy ambiguous endings where you leave the theater thinking "WTF just happened?" you are bludgeoned with hints that the Prodigal Son, the girl he left behind and his precious daughter will all live happily ever after.

Hank Palmer no longer has to run away from his home town or himself since he knows his daddy loves and approves of him. Even his bitter brother, whose budding baseball career he ruined in a car wreck, forgives him. And instead of defending reprehensible criminals, he will now dispense justice in a Disneyfied small Indiana town that was actually a melange of more picturesque bergs in Massachusetts.

Having recently seen This Is Where I Leave You, I couldn't help but have a bad case of deja vu when Hank Palmer discovers his old high school sweetie is still hanging around town, and the flame between them is rekindled. What's up with these male-fantasy women who wait in the wings until their knight comes riding back into town on his limping horse?

The main reason the critics disliked The Judge is that it's too Hollywood. Unlike more nuanced indie films, the characters in the movie are black and white, like Duvall's cold-hearted dad who turns out to be as sentimental as a Hallmark card and Downey's big city lawyer with a hard candy shell and soft center.

I am not above enjoying a feel good movie about an estranged father and son who repair their relationship, especially when it has some courtroom scenes and a pretty lake in the background. Sure The Judge relies on every cliche known to movie makers, but sometimes we just want the comfort of a really good meat loaf.

Oh, and did I mention Billy Bob Thornton is in it?

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