The Judge: Movie Review
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Leighton Meester
Director: David Dobkin
Robert Downey Jr moves away from his iron-clad superhero counterpart for more human concerns in this drama outing that's as much about fathers and sons as it is justice.
Robert Downey Jr is cocksure lawyer Hank Palmer, who's the epitome of a big city lawyer; flashy home, flashy court antics, quick fire verbosity and a trophy wife. But when he gets a call that his mother's died, he's forced to head home to a world he left behind years ago - and an estranged father (Robert Duvall) who's also the home town judge.
Things go from bad to worse for this big city fish in the small town pond when his father's accused of murder on the day of his mother's funeral - and soon, Hank's forced into begrudgingly giving his services to try and ensure his father doesn't spend his final days behind bars.
The Judge is less courtroom drama, more matters-of-the-heart kind of piece / home-coming dramatics , with Downey Jr's quick-fire rapid skills taking a dial down for more emotional intensity as we negotiate the waters of home-spun sentimentality.
Sure, all the borderline sentimental / schmaltzy cliches are there - the rift between father and son, the chequered past between a trio of brothers, a home-town love that never really left, a question over paternity and a distant daughter to reconnect to - but Downey Jr's relatively restrained and charismatic turn helps you negotiate through the potential mire of predictability of an ever-so slightly overlong two-and-a-half hour drama.
Duvall and Downey Jr have a good chemistry as the decades-old tension is played out and the hostility of estrangement is worked through; certainly as resentments bubble up and boil over, they're nicely played out (even if they're lazily worked into the narrative and unsubtly hammered home; one major row / metaphor comes just as a storm hits the town and is done by the time it all blows over the next day) but there's never anything short of entirely obvious on the screen.
If there's anything objectionable about The Judge, it's really down to how extraneous some characters end up being; a questionable tryst with Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester's bar keep is glossed over and used only dramatically toward the end, the other two brothers fare the worst, with Mark Strong's mentally handicapped Dale apparently on hand to just ask questions, help the audience out and play-out some home movies to ramp up the sentimentality of the past montages; equally D'Onofrio's towering performance largely being sidelined after some initial promise and Farmiga's love interest is there simply when it suits.
At the end of the day, any objections to abject button-pushing and rank sentimentality are over-ruled by the eminently watchable Duvall and Downey Jr show in their third outing together; their headstrong head-butting proves the main drive and focus for this melodrama and while the outcome is never anything less than obvious, the occasionally meandering journey to the final destination is what (just) raises The Judge above its mawkishness.