Debuting in cinemas today is The Judge, a family/courtroom comedy-drama starring Robert Downey Jr. & Robert Duvall. The film sees Downey play the cocky Hank Palmer, a big shot defense attorney who has spent the past 20 years with his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana in his rear view mirror.
The only remaining connection he has left is with his mother, and after receiving news of her passing, Hank is forced to return home to the small town he has fought so hard to keep in his past. When his father is accused of murder Hank has no choice but to defend him in what could possibly be the toughest case of Hank’s career.
To commemorate the film’s release, HeyUGuys was able to catch up with the the cast & crew to discuss the creative process behind the project.
When asked to describe the film to potential audiences, star Robert Downey Jr. said
It’s like there are three trials going on. There’s the trial he takes on with his dad, the trial going on with his personal life with his Mrs. and then there’s the actual trial between Dickem [Billy Bob Thornton] and him where Dickem is coming after the wrongs he’s done before.
It’s so great because there’s always wit in these exchanges and if you know lawyers who are out for each other’s throats. If you actually recorded the conversations they have with each other or you actually heard a father and son or mother and daughter who have a strained relationship. there’s always these moments of compassion and hilarity.
…I think that’s the real achievement of The Judge is it has such wit to it and it has moments of wisdom and humor.
Co-Star Robert Duvall offered a similar observation with regard to his layered character Judge Palmer in the film
People say when you take a part on is it a bad guy or a good guy? It’s all percentages. It’s a combination. Nobody is one thing or another. I think that I’ve played a lot of bad guys like Stalin, but you try to find the contradictions.
You try to find the vulnerability, and anything good in them. But sometimes it can be hard to find. Something like this [Judge Palmer] is a guy, a father with strengths and weaknesses good and bad both mixed. But nothing is either bad or good, it’s a mix. A legitimate, realistic mix. Like life.
Downey went on to discuss the challenges of keeping things fresh and balancing the tone of the film between drama and comedy;
A lot of the scenes are about finesse because otherwise you have two guys who have all these scenes together as father and son and if one scene felt like the next scene then the movie suffers. So I think the biggest challenge, the biggest hurdle was to make sure that every scene had its own frequency. When it was appropriate [we added] a little bit more lightness or humor or connection. Actors could play a part like this and they would want to come in and just scream for like 120 pages. You really have to modulate it otherwise it feel amateur.
Director David Dobkin echoed Downey’s sentiments
We talked about not wanting these guys to be yelling at each other for the whole movie. It’s a very entertaining movie and we wanted it to be entertaining, not just a drama.
We wanted to draw people in slowly through the movie so that by the time [the drama] happened, you were invested in the right way. If they were really at each other too early in the movie you would say “I’m not sure I could take the whole ride here, it’s too much”
Producer Susan Downey continued by highlighting the careful process of combining genres:
The balance was very important to us, particularly between the drama and the humor. We feel like they really feed each other. Especially because of the themes we are working with. At its core, yes there’s a drama there, but we knew we wanted to make an entertaining movie.
We didn’t want to do something that was going to be heavy that was going to be exhausting for people emotionally to get through where they would give up on us. You needed those moments of lightness. For us it spoke to the real human experience. It’s not all just dark and dreary. We were very conscious during the development of the script, the making of the movie and most certainly in the editing room finding and striking that balance.
Even with the courtroom stuff, how much do you need to make sure it feels it is an alive presence in the film, but doesn’t take away from the story you’re most interested in? How are these two guys going to make it through this? Hopefully we’ve constructed it so that you need both of those elements to work for the story to unfold.
The larger themes of the film do indeed address elements of truth, family and legacy. HeyUGuys asked star Robert Downey Jr. about his storied career in Hollywood and asked how he would like his own legacy to be remembered.
You know what I love about people who are of like icons in Hollywood is you find out all this crap about them. <whispers> Oh she was a b*tch… WHAT!? He was gay dude OH MY GOD! …<quietly> she was so cheap.
I’d like people to think about me like that one day. As a stingy mean lesbian. No, [actually] I dont know it’s funny I’m almost 50 but I actually feel like i’m growing up a little bit. So I will have to get back to you on that.