thu 13/06/2024

The Judge | reviews, news & interviews

The Judge

The Judge

This 'family drama with lawyers in it' pits Robert Downey Jr against Robert Duvall, with rollercoaster results

Robert Downey Jr plays a flashy lawyer who must defend his difficult father (Robert Duvall)

The Judge is the Chaka Khan of movies: it’s every movie, it’s all in here. Directed by comedy specialist David Dobkin, there were high hopes for this first outing from Team Downey, Robert Jr & Susan Downey's production company. To ensure excitement, Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque’s script has enough plot for five films: The Judge is a crime drama, court thriller, family melodrama, bromance, romance and comedy. 

Skewed to an older audience, The Judge looks like a family drama with lawyers in it - the kind of tight ensemble piece made by Hollywood of yore. Think To Kill A Mockingbird (an early Duvall role referenced here) with fun. Why not? Its cast is strong: Downey Jr is Hank Palmer, the slick city lawyer who is immoral and successful as well as cute and likable. Robert Duvall plays Judge Joseph Palmer, the irascible father who worries about his standing in the small town where he, literally, holds court. Vincent D’Onofrio appears as the brother who stayed behind to help their mother (Catherine Cummings) tend to the mentally challenged, cine-camera wielding brother (Jeremy Strong).

A laudable debut of good intentions, 'The Judge' is a good omen for Team Downey

Hank comes home, initially for his mother’s funeral. He's called back from his plane to the big city: someone has dented his father’s beloved car - and there’s red stuff in the grill. Soon everyone – family, town, friends and us - is sucked into a legally twisty, CCTV footage-using, ‘what’s that in the road’ kind of court room drama. Billy Bob Thornton, besuited and drinking water from a suspicious telescoping cup, is the mysterious, skillful lawyer brought in for the redneck defence.

Even though the death of good mother Palmer is trivialised, The Judge attempts to right one cinematic wrong: love interest Vera Farmiga is close to Downey’s real age. Yet, we know by the law of cinema that her daughter (Leighton Meester) would typically end up with our hero. The solution is a nifty twist.

The Judge is a film that is trying to say something. In fact, it is trying to say everything – as if it will ever get another chance. If Downey hams it up or talks too much, he’s at least good at it. He’s enjoyable to watch. He can act: at the heart of The Judge stands a scene with Duvall of jaw-dropping poignancy. The dynamics between the three brothers are also deftly handled, hinting at the pain of lost opportunities because “somebody” selfishly ran off to the big city.

A laudable debut of good intentions, The Judge is a good omen for Team Downey. Maybe they'll produce more and better like it. When they succeed, the audience will be the winner.

'The Judge' is trying to say something. In fact, it is trying to say everything


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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