Skip 'The Judge' 

By trying to do too much, vehicle for Downey, Duval turns to mush.

click to enlarge SONS OF 'THE JUDGE': Downey (center) listens to Jeremy Strong (left) and Vincent D'Onofrio image
  • SONS OF 'THE JUDGE': Downey (center) listens to Jeremy Strong (left) and Vincent D'Onofrio.

"The Judge," an inoffensive and generally likeable drama that odd-couples Robert Downey Jr. with Robert Duvall, runs like a two-plus-hour chardonnay. Setting aside a few quasi-coarse moments (even a family friendly film needs to establish street cred on its own terms), "The Judge" plays mostly by the numbers that American audiences have decided they like in their black-sheep redemption tales. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; whatever you might begrudge a crowd-pleaser, they tend to be so named for a reason. But it also feels like an opportunity passed.

Downey is a hotshot lawyer in Chicago, defending scumbags by trade — making him, by extension, no small bag of scum himself. He gets word during a trial that his mother has died. He hugs his young daughter goodbye, gets into one last screaming match with his soon-to-be-estranged wife, and heads off to small-town Indiana, a trip he has long avoided. His grown brothers are still there — Vincent D'Onofrio as a shoulda-been baseball star in unremarkable middle age, Jeremy Strong as a simple-hearted shutterbug — and his high school girlfriend, Vera Farmiga, is still working the counter at the diner. This is no small amount of baggage for a guy who hasn't been home in 25 years! Which obviously is the point, so back off already.

The font of Downey's troubles, and the reason home ain't really his bag, is his old man, Duvall, equal parts doddering and thundering. He's the titular judge, having been on the bench for four decades, and in his bedrock reverence for the law, a foil to his win-at-all-costs son. They clash on a number of levels, and just as neither can wait to see the other in the rearview, something happens that has the old man needing legal counsel in a serious way.

Director David Dobkin's oeuvre to this point ("Fred Claus," "The Change-Up," "Wedding Crashers") wouldn't point to a gritty legal drama as his next step, and indeed, "The Judge" aims to have it both ways, bringing in the occasional chuckle or warm-fuzzy to leaven what could've been a thoroughly dark story. Downey's at his best in these tight spaces, though. The hyperkinetic delivery that made his "Iron Man" performances iconic translates to a film in which he has to hit a range of notes. He moves quickly enough to maneuver through romance, breakup, indignation and magnanimity with ease. Meanwhile, Duvall holds down his role as if he'd been discovered wandering the wilds of the Midwest and someone decided to build a movie around him, like setting a house down beside a century-old oak.

Their chemistry paints a kind of parent-child love-hate that movies don't always do this well. Together they almost nudge "The Judge" beyond its destiny as a middlebrow exercise worth watching with the in-laws when it appears on cable during the holidays. (Pay attention to the namby-pamby score, in fact, to get a sense of how seriously the movie wants us to take it.) Instead, the symbolism gets piled on too thickly, the character arc sails too cleanly. It's slick moviemaking that risks gliding right through you without leaving much of an impression.


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Trump unfit

    Even as an oligarch, President Trump turns out to be breathtakingly incompetent. Is there any reason to suppose he's even loyal to the United States? Does he even understand the concept? Trump is loyal to Trump, and to his absurdly swollen ego. Nothing and nobody else.
  • You want tort reform? Try this.

    The nursing home industry and the chamber of commerce finally defeated the trial lawyers in the 2017 legislature. The Republican-dominated body approved a constitutional amendment for voters in 2018 that they'll depict as close to motherhood in goodness.
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
  • Raw feelings in the Arkansas Justice Building over workload, pay

    Strained relations between the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view this week. I expect more to come.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

New Entrance and North Forest to debut with Chihuly exhibit opening at Crystal Bridges

New Entrance and North Forest to debut with Chihuly exhibit opening at Crystal Bridges

Dual Chihuly exhibit opening also brings culmination of year-plus forest project

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Tollywood tumble

    • Thank you for sharing.
      Telugu Film Actress Gallery

    • on May 22, 2017
  • Re: A Q&A with Bob Dorough

    • like Rodney replied I'm taken by surprise that you able to profit $9659 in four…

    • on May 20, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation