The Judge, 2014, 2 ¾ stars

Duvall, Downey overcome unskilled director

From MeierMovies.com, October 9, 2014

The JudgeOne doesn’t need much of an excuse to watch a movie starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. A workable script, a mediocre director and some half-competent editing is about all that’s required, and, well, that’s about all you’re going to get from The Judge.

Downey is Hank Palmer, a cocky – big surprise there – Chicago lawyer returning home to small-town Indiana for his mother’s funeral. He’s reluctant to make the trip, though, because of his overbearing father (Duvall), who, thanks to his 42 years as the town’s judge, feels he partially owns the town.

“People in the community trust me,” he tells his son. “They trust the law.”

Adding to the tension are Hank’s elder brother (Vincent D’Onofrio), with whom he shares a familial, life-changing tragedy, and a younger, mentally challenged brother (Jeremy Strong). “This family’s a fucking Picasso painting,” Hank laments.

If that weren’t enough, days after his wife’s funeral, the judge is accused of a murder he may or may not have committed. After some wrangling, it’s determined that Hank is the reluctant, yet perfect candidate to represent him, opening the door to even more family therapy via an intermittently entertaining courtroom dramedy.

The story and casting are superb, but the screenplay and director are suspect. Though The Judge is likely his best offering to date, David Dobkin seems better suited to Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, arguably his two most famous previous productions. And his attempt to repeatedly shove comedy and an overbearing soundtrack down our throats when the movie demands straight drama threatens to undermine the film’s moving moments, of which there are several in the second half.

Vera Farmiga, as Downey’s former girlfriend, and Billy Bob Thornton, as the prosecuting attorney, add depth and help justify the 141-minute runtime, but it’s really screen legend Duvall and, to a lesser extent, Downey who make the film watchable and even elevate it to more than the sum of its parts.

My verdict is a slight thumbs-up, but I would have preferred a retrial.

Copyright 2014 © Cameron Meier