Film review: The Judge
★★☆☆☆ Cert 12A
In the first project under new production company Team Downey, Roberts Downey Jr goes tete-a-tete with Robert Duvall in this hybrid family drama/oddball comedy/ courtroom thriller. Director David Dobkin, who is better known for comedies like The Wedding Crashers and The Change Up, extracts terrific performances from his heavyweight leads, but his first foray into a new genre proves the old adage that you should stick to what you know.
Downey Jr plays smug, motor-mouthed Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (the kind of guy who says things like: “Innocent people can’t afford me”). His mother’s sudden death forces him home to Indiana for a reunion with his estranged father Joseph (Duvall), the town’s cantankerous local judge.
As fate would have it, the old man is then charged with running down a local lowlife and – guess what? – he needs a lawyer. Cue two hours and twenty minutes of self-discovery, bizarre plot developments and contrived clichés (case in point: the film’s climatic argument taking place during a heavily-symbolic wind storm).
The film’s October release suggests Team Downey (which consists of RDJ and his wife) considers it an Oscar contender, and it’s certainly brilliantly acted. Downey Jr is perfectly cast as the charming, narcissistic Hank and Duvall proves his character-acting credentials as the revered Judge, and the pair are well-buttressed by Billy Bob Thornton as a vengeful prosecutor, Vera Farmiga as an old flame, and the always-welcome Vincet D’Onofrio as Hank’s beleaguered older brother.
But their performances are squandered by the film’s clunky screenplay and indulgent running time that leave you with the suspicion that this legal melodrama should have been thrown out of court before it went to trial.