The Judge Review
What’s It About: It’s always good to see Robert Downey Jr. hang up the iron suit every once in a while. In The Judge, Downey swaps flawed genius Tony Stark for flawed hotshot lawyer Hank Palmer. Like Iron Man’s alter-ego, Hank appears to have it all – a beautiful wife, moppet-like daughter, great job, amazing house. But scratch beneath the surface and Hank’s shine starts to come off: his wife’s been cheating on him and they’re getting a divorce, his work is his life and he’ll do anything to win a case. On top of all this Hank hasn’t been to visit his family in 20 years but when Hank’s mother dies he has to head back to his small town home and come face-to-face with his father, Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall). To say they don’t get on would be an understatement, at one point the Judge tells his son “I wish I liked you more”. But when the Judge is accused of killing a local criminal in a road accident it’s up to Hank to draw on all his legal skills to find the truth.
Verdict: The plot makes The Judge sound like a typical courtroom drama – and there are elements of a John Grisham legal thriller in there. But really it’s about a broken down father-son relationship and how a child deals with an ageing parent. Added into the mix are subplots involving the girlfriend Hank left behind (Vera Farmiga) and bartender Carla (Leighton Meester who appears in two scenes and then disappears completely).
It’s a weighty film that deals with some big themes and Downey Jr. and Duvall deliver good performances as the two leads. Downey’s Hank is clever, arrogant, and a bit of an ass but you still root for him. Duvall sheds all actorly vanity – particularly in one heartbreaking scene that holds the film together. The film opened this year’s Toronto Film Festival and was obviously being pitched as an awards contender. If anyone features I think it’ll be Duvall.
Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong provide able support as Hank’s brothers. D’Onofrio’s Glen is a former baseball prodigy and as the film unfolds we found out how he wound up still living in a small town working as a mechanic. Billy Bob Thornton and Dax Shepherd also appear as lawyers – Thornton plays Hank’s adversary in the case against Judge Palmer. Shepherd is the small town lawyer/antiques dealer who acts as Hank’s second chair in the trial and throws up every morning before court. In fact, there’s a lot of bodily functions featured in this film.
Having said all this the problem is that the film is just too long – 141 minutes. Losing 20-25 minutes might have turned it from an enjoyable diversion into a really good film. Instead it waxes and wanes, there are scenes that just don’t need to be there and plot lines that end up going absolutely nowhere.
Final Words: Overall The Judge is a decent film with some good performances. Downey is a proper movie star now and it’s good to see him step away from the Marvel universe. He just needs to find some material that can match his talents. I’m not sure The Judge is it.
The Judge is in UK cinemas from 17 October.