As if it needed to be confirmed, I don’t think there’s a more charismatic actor in the business than Robert Downey Jr. He once again lends his charm and talents to “The Judge”, in which he plays Hank, a slimy big city defense lawyer (is there any other kind?). When visiting his small hometown in Indiana for his mother’s funeral, Hank’s elderly father (played by Robert Duvall) is accused of murder, and Hank must defend now him. David Dobkin directs as Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thorton costar.
“The Judge” is an interesting movie. Not because it is perplexing or fresh (because it’s pretty straightforward and standard), but because it has moments of brilliance that are then followed by 10 very slow, sometimes awkwardly schmaltzy minutes. Honestly, the best thing I can compare it to is “Jersey Boys”: it’s overlong and at times too self-serious, but also has some soaring scenes and is certainly worth a view.
The best part of “Judge”, by far, is Downey and Duvall going at it. One of the film’s many clichés is that they are a father and son with a strained relationship, but they make sure that this plot point does not feel stale or derivative. Duvall growls and Downey does his fast-talking thing; it all elevates the film higher than it would have been in the hands of less-capable actors.
While the courtroom scenes aren’t as nail-biting or riveting as they could have or should have been, they are still entertaining, and seeing Downey spit out lawyer lingo will always make me say “shut up and take my money!”.
The director of the film, David Dobkin, is known for such classy dramas as “The Change-Up” and “Wedding Crashers” (sarcasm, of course). I can respect that he wants to make a serious Hollywood film but I can’t help but feel he’s a little out of place. It is a lot like Ruben Fleischer, who directed comedies “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less”, then tried to make a serious film with “Gangster Squad”. My personal feelings for “Squad” aside, you can tell the film’s narrative and tone are not quite confident, or consistent, and that inhibits the movie from reaching higher levels.
Dobkin, who wrote the story for “Judge” as well, knows how to make a shot look pretty or show character emotion, but his scenes draw on too long, and moments of attempted humor will come at such random times that you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cringe.
Like I hinted at earlier, the movie has a lot of clichés. From the estranged son, to a character maybe having a daughter they never knew about, all the way to the diner full of townspeople with one of them literally saying “we’ve eaten breakfast here every week for over twenty years” (which is followed by you rolling your eyes). If there’s a book about “Things to Include in a Movie about a Small Town”, the screenwriter probably has it on his shelf.
“The Judge” is pretty much going to be as good as you thought it was going to be when you saw the trailer. If you’re like me and you thought, “oh, there’s a drama with forced comedic moments but will feature two great performances from the Roberts”, then you’ll enjoy yourself. If you thought, “this thing looks like a sappy, unfunny version of ‘My Cousin Vinny’ meets ‘Doc Hollywood’”, well then I can’t tell you you’re completely wrong; that’s how perplexing this movie is.
Critics Rating: 6/10