The Judge (15A) stars Robert Downey Jnr as Hank Palmer, a brash defence lawyer who is, in his own words, ‘not in awe of the law, not encumbered by it’. Hank’s cynicism about the legal system — and life itself — is severely tested when he returns to his small Indiana hometown for his mother’s funeral, and subsequently finds himself defending his father, the respected judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), against a charge of premeditated murder, when the judge is accused of a deliberate hit-and-run perpetrated against a man he once sent to prison.
Despite the set-up and the father and son’s professions, The Judge isn’t a courtroom drama; instead it’s much more concerned with unravelling the cat’s cradle of the Palmer family’s relationships. Joseph Palmer was a father who took the concept of ‘tough love’ to the extreme, resulting in Hank rejecting all his father stood for; compounding the issue is the fact that Hank, in his youth, ruined his brother Glen’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) prospects as a professional baseball pitcher.
It’s a tale fuelled by guilt, hate, failed responsibilities and a yearning for love, and David Dobkin, directing, shoehorns in about two sub-plots too many, in the process distracting attention from the intriguing central storyline shared by Downey Jnr and Duvall. That said, a fine cast — Vera Farmiga as Hank’s old flame Samantha and Billy Bob Thornton playing the beady-eyed prosecution lawyer Dwight Dickham also co-star — make it all very enjoyable, with Duvall compellingly poignant as a man mourning not only his wife but the loss of a life’s legacy, and the always watchable Downey Jnr in ravenous scenery-chewing form.
Adapted from the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me (12A) is a romantic drama that plays out along parallel time-lines. In 1992, Dawson (Luke Bracey) and Amanda (Liana Liberato) were high school sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks, their love facilitated by Tuck (Gerald McRaney), a widower who provides the mismatched couple with the support and encouragement to go against the grain. Now, 20 years later, Tuck’s death brings Luke (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) back together again. Can the pair learn to forgive one another for the wounds they inflicted in their youth?
Grittier in tone, despite the quaintly picturesque setting of small-town America, than previous adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), The Best of Me is deftly directed by Michael Hoffman, who neatly weaves together the past and the present as both stories build towards a tense climax. Bracey and Liberato aren’t fully convincing as the love-struck teenagers, but Marsden and Monaghan work brilliantly together as the older, world-wearier adults who are wary of one another and of the pain they risk by committing again to love.
Indeed, it’s an unusual script for the genre, with frequent segues into debates on fate and destiny, and the withering of faith in the face of absolute loss. A luridly melodramatic finale sits uneasily with all that has gone before, but until then The Best of Me is an intelligent, thought-provoking and engrossing romantic drama.
The heroes in a half-shell return in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A), although this reboot of the 1990’s phenomenon is designed as an origins story, explaining how the pizza-chomping turtles — Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Michelangelo (Pete Fisher), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) — emerged from the sewers to become New York’s favourite vigilante amphibians, aided and abetted by TV entertainment journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her hapless cameraman Vern (Will Arnett).
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, this live-action adventure is very slickly packaged as a kind of cartoon take on a serious crime drama, as the turtles go head-to-head with Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the leader of the Foot Clan Mafia who is in cahoots with the apparently respectable but thoroughly evil Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), the former associate of April’s father.
There are plenty of nods to the earlier incarnation of the ninja turtles (we even get a belated ‘Cowabunga!’), and the in-jokes earn their place in a fast-paced, energetic flick that features plenty of chop-socky action.
Fox is given very little to do other than look beautiful, which she manages with aplomb, and Arnett is as woefully underused as Fichtner is one-dimensionally wicked, but ultimately the movie is all about the ninja turtles, and the movie benefits hugely from the portrayal of the formerly cute turtles as towering creatures bristling with real menace.