Director: David Dobkin
Cast: Robert Downey Jr. Robert Duval, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton
Running Time: 141 mins
Release Date: Ocotber 17th
Hank Palmer (Downey) is a big city lawyer who makes a lot of money defending guilty men and getting them out of jail time. He is the best in the business, but a bitter disappointment to his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Duval) who rules the small town of Carlinville, Inidana. When Judge Palmer is involved in a hit and run accident that he doesn’t recall, he must choose between a son he deems morally corrupt and the local antique dealer/lawyer as his representation for his court date. The fact that they can hardly stand to be in the same room as each other, and that Hank suspects him of drinking the night of the accident, means the task is even greater. The only way to ensure Joseph’s innocence will be Hank’s representation, but their damaged relationship may inhibit any chance they have to save Joseph from jail time.
On paper this seems like a pretty run of the mill idea that has the opportunity to surpass its mediocrity though strong casting, but the addition of a director with a less than stellar back catalogue and things start to go awry. Dobkin is responsible for such films as Fred Claus, The Change-Up, Shanghai Knights and The Wedding Crashers; which is not the ideal background when attempting to bring a poignant and dramatic story to the screen. It is in this regard that the film really fails to deliver, as the tone swings from drama to comedy – one downright slapstick moment – and back to poignant heart-string pulling emotionality. It fails to nail its colours to the mast as it attempts to be too funny at inappropriate times and tries to drill the poignant moments for all they are worth.
Despite failing to find its feet in defining exactly what it wants to be, Duvall and Downey are decent in their respective roles. There is a sense that Duvall is channelling a little bit of Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski (Gran Torino) as he grumbles at everything in sight and treats Hank with utter disdain. Downey Jr. is quite good and although his character seems to have it all sewn up, we soon learn that he is a deeply damaged and vulnerable character. There are one or two marquee scenes in which he breaks away from his smart mouth Tony Stark act and delivers some memorable moments, one particular scene with Duvall in the family kitchen is as good as he has been in quite some time. That said, one or two decent scenes do not bridge the gap and lift it out of mediocrity.
The support cast are good throughout, with Farmiga and D’Onofrio playing their roles as high school sweetheart and angry brother with ease. The score and cinematography go for the poignant and artistic angles respectively and although there are some nice wide shots of the Indiana farmlands, it all feels a little forced.
One of the films major failings is the attempt to shoe horn in too much story to flesh out the two and half hour running time. There are a number of unfinished threads in the mix and there is also a plethora of unnecessarily long and saccharine scenes. The courtroom drama is decent for the most part, but it suffers from the above, especially when it turns into a family therapy session when Joseph takes the stand.
Brimming with potential and in love with its own pathos, The Judge is bloated and uneven. That said, there are still some decent moments in the mix and Downey Jr. hasn’t lost any of his natural talent, it’s just not as good as it could be.