The Judge (2014) – Review

Directed by David Dobkin
Written by Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque from David Dobkin, Nick Schenk
Starring Robert Downey Jnr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton
Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Just a few short years behind. This rather mysterious statement of what seems like fact refers to the road upon which Robert Downey Jnr is now travelling, in the wake of George Clooney. Forget for a moment, if you will, the choices of project aside from the point at which Clooney decided to appear in The Descendants. The Judge is RDJ’s Descendants, if you will. 
It’s quite easy to forget that RDJ is anything more than a man in an iron suit. Tony Stark is now so indefinable from RDJ so as to become perplexing trying to imagine anyone else playing the role. Granted, there has been a couple of Sherlock Holmes outings, but Benedict Cumberbatch has already proven himself more capable of that role than RDJ. Prior to this anti-renaissance for the man, you have only really got the odd (and I do mean odd) comedy that you probably can’t remember the name of in his recent back catalogue. 
But if you’ve got a memory that has been going longer than Marvel have been making movies, then you’ll already be aware that RDJ is actually an excellent actor, so a decent performance in any project that allows him the opportunity to shine should come as no real surprise. If he could just get rid of the Tony Stark swagger that he carries proudly around with him, like an unavoidable beacon of entitlement, then we’d be set. He has all the signs of a man who knew that greatness would eventually be thrust upon him, even if he had to ensure a stint in prison to get there. Now that he has got there, by crikey, he intends to milk it.

Seeing him being interviewed on the press cavalcade prior to the films’ release, he remained ebullient about the films’ potential and value. As little more than bewildered cohort, Duvall was more tight-lipped, but that could possibly have been due to him still being in the character of the titular judge and not quite all there. Asking the poor sod to hurtle transatlantically was probably unfair for one of such advancing years, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to find him doing little more than nodding and making the odd enthusiastic grunt. At least he stayed awake.

And there are parts of the film where you to will have your own battle with narcolepsy. True, these moments aren’t liberally scattered throughout, but at nearly two and half hours, you might need at least a couple of lattes to to see yourself through to the end.

Returning home after the death of his mother, Hank (Henry on Sundays, RDJ) is not looking forward to seeing his father (Duvall) again. Seems they both have issues with one another that have gone on for some time. Hank feels unloved and ignored by his one remaining parent and has done so particularly in the years between graduating at the top of his class in law school and every day since.

A la Doc Hollywood, Hank’s return to the small town home requires meeting some old friends as well as family and he bumps into old girlfriend Vera Farmiga who may not be letting on about some of the events that have taken place since his exit to the big city many years previously. What follows is a fairly predictable tale of home truths and harsh realities and as Hank begins to spend time with a father he initially loathed, he begins to appreciate him and his brothers in new ways as his advancing years and mellowing arrogance allows.

Performance-wise, Duvall is excellent as the aging, cancer riddled judge that may or may not have committed murder and his two-handers with RDJ are compelling both in and out of the court room. RDJ is admittedly less impressive, with too much bravado and quick delivery that doesn’t really seem to suit the more sedate pace of the story here. Supported well, albeit briefly, by Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga, the cast impress overall.

Altogether, The Judge is an overlong ‘shout out and look at me’ project mostly for RDJ’s benefit, but this is not his best work, even away from his Marvel escapades. It has some genuinely impressive scenes and Dobkin directs mostly by the book, doing little to test his audience with regard to innovation. Good stuff throughout, if you have the patience for it, though this won’t ever set your world on fire.

from Blogger


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