Friday, 16 January 2015

Best Supporting Actor 2014: Robert Duvall in The Judge

Robert Duvall received his seventh Oscar nomination for portraying Joseph Palmer in The Judge.

The Judge is a rather predictable drama about a hot shot city lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) who goes to his old hometown after the death of his mother, and must defend his judge father who has been accused of murder. It has more than a few cliches in terms of the writing as well as the direction. It could be worse as its biggest problem is that it is overlong and the film would have done well to remove its subplots, particularly the one where Hank wonders whether or not he pulled an Oldboy.

Robert Duvall plays the titular judge and I have to take this time to voice my distaste with a certain criticism I have been hearing about Duvall's performance. The criticism being that he should not have been nominated here because he could do this performance in his sleep. That seems to suggest that Duvall should deserve less credit because he's a great actor, which is ridiculous. Also if you were to think about how a few of his contemporaries would have handled the part, if they were doing it in their sleep, that idea does not make a whole lot of sense. Robert De Niro for example is a horribly bland performer when he does not try. Al Pacino, in this sort of role, would probably be hooting and hollering all over the place turning the Judge into a crazed caricature, if we got the coasting Pacino. Well Duvall has not seemed to have left his enthusiasm for acting behind over the years, and that can be seen in his performance here as Judge Joseph Palmer.

We are first introduced to the Judge as presides over a minor issue of child support. Duvall naturally brings the needed command for playing who is suppose to be a semi-legendary Judge. He has that presence that shows that Palmer owns the courtroom. Duvall is acerbic enough as Palmer criticizes both the plaintiff and the defendant, but with a marginal bit of empathy as though Palmer believes he is teaching them with his words. We never see him in this role again but Duvall establishes himself as the Judge quite well. After this point we see him with his three sons and we see how Palmer is as a father. Duvall actually portrays his rougher in this regard as he so bluntly portrays the way Palmer puts his demands of his sons right to the point without compromise, effectively alludes to the later revelations regarding his past with Downey's Hank. Duvall simply is great at being a hard ass and leaves no question why Hank is so bitter towards him.

What Duvall does really well here is just making the most of little moments though that allude to a softer side of Palmer. One great moment early on is when the Judge speaks at his wife grave and is moving as he portrays that the Judge loved his wife. It's a short moment but Duvall gets about as much as one could get out of it. Duvall is also good in his brief moments where he interacts with Hank's daughter. Duvall honestly brings out some sweetness as he shows the judge as far more willing to openly express his love his grandchild than his children. Another being when Palmer describes a misjudgment of his where he gave leniency to a man who soon afterwards murdered a teenage girl. Again Duvall is quite good in quietly suggesting the way this decision has haunted him. Of course the crux of Duvall's performance, and the film, and probably what should have been the sole focus of the film, that being the relationship between father and son. They are forced to face their past when the judge is accused of killing the man he had given leniency to.

Duvall and Downey are not always given the most original material or even the best dialogue but they both try to their best with the material they are given. They both convey the bitterness between the two of them because of Hank's screw ups in the past and the harsh way in which the judge dealt with them. In their scenes of fighting, particularly over the strategy in which to handle the judge's defense since Hank wants to take any angle while the judge refuses to lower himself in anyway whatsoever even to save himself from prison, the each deliver the much needed passion and intensity. Some of the situations around their fights, particularly one involving a storm and an excessively convenient movie made by Hank's brother, are almost ridiculous in their setup. The thing is though Duvall and Downey do make it feel as genuine as they possible can because they are convincing in creating the difficult relationship between father and son.

The two even do well in portraying the gradual understanding between the two because neither rush this and leave some tension even as the grow closer. One very good scene actually is when Hank helps the judge after he has had diarrhea due to a side effect of his chemotherapy. That scene could have gone very wrong, like some other scenes in the film, but Duvall and Downey are really good in it. They don't even say much but their interactions just wonderfully suggest a tenderness and understanding between father and son. Now the film ends with a courtroom testimony by Duvall as all is revealed so to speak. The scene probably tries to tackle too much at once but Duvall is consistently good. Whether its portraying the hatred he had for the man, the sad revelation that his unfortunate leniency came from seeing to much of his son in the eventual, or his simple resignation after the verdict, Duvall delivers in every moment. What poignancy and power that can be found in the scene is discovered by Duvall's performance, much like the majority of the film. Robert Duvall's work here does not make this a great film or even a good one. When the film does work though it is due to Duvall and this is one fine example of a great actor doing his best to elevate sub par material.


mcofra7 said...

Oh well...

mcofra7 said...

Rating for Downey

Louis Morgan said...

Still a 3.5.

Psifonian said...

Hot damn! Good to see Duvall not get the sheer vitriol that has been lobbed his way. Sure, the part is tailor-made for him and it doesn't require him to move mountains to play it, but it's a damned fine bit of work that shows how magnetic Bob is and how easy he makes everything look. The film was 45 minutes too long and several subplots could've been trimmed, but Duvall's scenes are excellent.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Thoughts and ratings for the rest of the cast

Anonymous said...

@luke higham: ratings and thoughts on Laura Dern in Wild, and thoughts on Witherspoon.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Honestly, I've been avoiding seeing this one because it just looks SO bad. Since Duvall was nominated, I don't really have a choice in seeing it now. I'll trust your judgment that he was good, though.

luke higham said...

Anonymous: There's nothing for me to really say about the film other than it was meh. I don't have any vested interest in talking about Dern & Witherspoon, so I'll just give my rating for Dern, which is a 2.5 as well.

luke higham said...

Louis: Putting my prediction & personal feelings aside, I'm really hoping, that Ruffalo gets a 4.5, so that we'll at least have the greatest supporting lineup ever.

luke higham said...

Anonymous: Actually, I'll give Dern a little more credit and up her score to a 3.

luke higham said...

Louis: your bottom five films of the year.

RatedRStar said...

This reminds me of what I said in 2011 with people getting angry that Fassbender was robbed by Damian Bechir and Gary Oldman when it was just Clooney doing the stealing, Duvall was deserving of this nomination.

mark. said...

I think the contempt for his nod unwarranted,I think it's a few random Cinema Blog Snobs,I thought he was great with what he was given,the rest of the film wasn't up to his standards.

Lezlie said...

Seeing all the OscarsSoWhite trending on the internet, I'd like to ask you all: aside from Oyelowo, are there any actors and actresses of color this year who you think would have deserved a nomination? One I haven't seen but heard very good things about is Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights (and to some lesser extent Belle). Anyone seen her in any of these? Some also say Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up was very good though the film itself less so, unfortunately I haven't yet seen that one either. Also, I don't believe that someone should be nominated just so to fill the token black/non-caucasian spot, but I do agree that a little diversity doesn't hurt if all the nominees are deserving. So, what are your thoughts folks?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well, Oyelowo DID deserves to get in. Also, I've heard the same thing about Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights. I really have to see that.

luke higham said...

Lezlie: Oyelowo was certainly deserving of a nomination. I've seen Belle and I think Raw would've been deserving too, although I haven't seen Beyond the Lights. I don't really care much in seeing Get on Up, unless Louis ends up recommending Boseman's performance.

Louis Morgan said...


D'Onofrio - 3(He's actually not bad at all in terms of the little he is actually given to do. His performance is basically just a series of reaction shots which aren't poorly done, but his character is basically there just to be a plot point for the main father/son relationship)

Strong - 1.5(I'll admit that the part as written does not help as his mental condition is played way too often for laughs. Strong though does not help matters with his cloying cartoonish performance)

Farmiga - 2(I felt her whole performance was bit self-aware, but worse than that she in no way stopped me from thinking that her whole character should just have been left out of the film entirely)

Thornton - 3(The film frankly should have been willing to utilize his special prosecutor a little more. Thornton is appropriately smooth in the role and is good in any scene which focuses on him. The film though seems like it's holding him back the whole time, which is a shame)


Well for me I always feel that whoever are the five best should be the five nominees no matter what.


1. Men Women & Children
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
3. The Expendables 3
4. Cake (Yeah I saw it)
5. Big Eyes

luke higham said...

Louis: What films have you seen in the past week, plus your ratings for the casts, I'll ask for your thoughts on the 3+ performances later on, since I don't want to take too much of your time.

Louis Morgan said...

Kill The Messenger:

Renner - 4.5
DeWitt - 2.5
Liotta - 4
Nelson - 3
Garcia - 3
Winstead - 2.5
Sheen - 2.5
Williams - 3


Aniston - 2.5
Barraza - 4
Kendrick - 2.5
Worthington - 2.5

The Gambler:

Wahlberg - 3
Goodman - 3.5
Larson - 2.5
Williams - 3.5
Lange - 2.5

luke higham said...

Louis: Thoughts on Renner, Liotta, Aniston, Barraza, Wahlberg, Goodman, Williams and Lange.

I'll watch Kill The Messenger sometime today or tomorrow.

Psifonian said...

Personally, Gugu Mbatha-Raw should be in the thick of it for "Belle." She's my current Best Actress win. I also feel Aniston got robbed (she's my #3), but at least Cotillard got in.

I think Oyelowo would've made a better nominee than Carell or Cooper and definitely Redmayne, but Gyllenhaal was the one who really deserved the nomination.

Louis Morgan said...


Renner - (Well it must be an absurdly packed year for lead actor for Renner's performance here to be completely ignored. Renner gives a compelling portrayal of the journalist getting to the bottom of something big and effectively guides the audience through the odd road he goes down. Renner's known for his intensity, which is seen here, but Renner also is pretty charming here bringing the needed life to the scenes where he spends time with his family. He is great in his second half of his performance he portrays the growing frustrations and paranoia as it seems everyone has turned against him. The sad end for his character is well earned by Renner as he brings his character just about to this point right before the film ends)

Liotta - (A one scene wonder and Liotta's very good in creating such a intriguing figure in just one scene. Liotta exudes the darkness of the secrets that his character alludes to and I would not have minded at least one more appearance from his "deep throat" type of character)

Aniston - (Despite some of the strong praise I've been hearing, from opinions I respect, I could not get behind this performance. She certainly gets down that single pained look, the one you can see in the poster, but I thought her performance was fairly one note. In addition I thought her line delivery was very over the top sitcomy style(and I should note I've never watched a single episode of Friends))

Barraza - (I thought she was basically from a different better movie. Barraza gives a needed spark to the film through her lively presence as Aniston's housekeeper who does not let her employer's behavior bring her down. It's good work and frankly she deserved to be the one who was being noted by the precursors)

Wahlberg - (He's good in his scenes as the burnout literary professor who probably has too high of an opinion of himself and too low of every one else. He's good in those scenes. The gambling scenes though I felt Wahlberg failed to convey what emotionally compelled him to rack up his debt. Wahlberg's performance makes it seems like his character is more of a jerk than a guy with real gambling problems. He also is severely lacking in terms of his chemistry with Larson and is very much overshadowed by Williams and Goodman)

Goodman - (Goodman delvers all of his monologues quite brilliantly with the needed harsh bluntness as he basically advises Wahlberg's character while at the same time threatening him as well as everything he holds dear)

Williams - (I think all of the loan sharks might be a tad too philosophical here, but Williams also delivers speeches with great style. He's effectively cool as he creates the menace of his character with such ease)

Lange - (She's okay I guess but she does not make much of an impact in her little bit of screen time)

luke higham said...

Yep, it's going to be a record breaking year for lead, 10 fives at least.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Wait, Louis and Psifonian disagree on something (Aniston)? That's... rare.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Louis, tell me when you see Begin Again. I doubt you'll like it as much as I did, but I think you'll at least like Knightley more there than in IG.

Anonymous said...

Louis, I just saw Two Days One Night and I was floored by Cotillard's performance. I also happened to like Rongione's performance, I thought he did a really good job that complimented Cotillard's performance really well. Thoughts/ratings on him?

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your ratings and thoughts on Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone and Colm Wilkinson in Les Miserables (2012), as well as you ratings and thoughts on the cast of Sweeney Todd, aside from Depp? (sorry, I'm kind of in a musical state of mind right now.)

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: I'm glad you liked her.

Rongione - 3(Although as a whole I felt he was overshadowed by Cotillard, I thought he offered some fine support giving the sense of the love the man had for his wife but almost a hesitation to her in some regards to get her to break out of her shell)


Barks - 4(Although I think they slightly botch her arc by having on my own too early, she still nails all of her scenes. She quickly creates Eponine as someone you care about and brings out the needed emotions in each of her songs. Her's strong work and I think should have been the one recognized over Anne Hathaway (although I will stand by her rendition of I dreamed a dream))

Wilkinson - 3(A nice warm bit of work from him, and I have to say his the addition of the Bishop's reappearance was quite affecting thanks to Wilkinson)

Huttlestone - 2.5(I could dislike him more and there are few moments where I did find him to be annoying but for the most part I thought he was serviceable)

Sweeney Todd:

Carter - 4(The only time I think I actually liked this sort of performance from her. Her singing voice is not great but I thought she did a fine job of playing up the weird insanity of Mrs. Lovett without going too far(unlike some of her later performances as similar characters). I felt she found some needed dark humor which was far too lacking in Depp's excessively dour performance)

Rickman - 2.5(Rickman does not offer anything too special here but he brings enough menace to the part I suppose)

Spall - 3(Spall's weirdness is welcome here as again he lightens things up a bit in a way in which the film needs)

Kelly - 3.5(She's rather good at being viciously insane in most of her moments, but I found the moment where she recognizes Todd to be quite great actually)

Cohen - 3(Pretty much like Spall, and here he kinda explains his over the top antics in the scene where he cuts the act)

Bower - 2(Rather bland young hero)

Wisener - 2(Rather bland young maiden)