2014 / Director. David Dobkin.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
It's been a while since I've seen a decent new court-room drama and I am easily persuaded by even the more sterile ones. Fortunately THE JUDGE has a lot going for it and kept me completely engaged, despite it having some shortcomings. Robert Downey Jr plays a sly defence attorney who returns to his home town for his mother's funeral. His relationship with his father is severely fractured and at the moment he boards a plane to leave, swearing to never return, he receives a phone call from his brother asking him to return. His father (Robert Duvall) has been charged with murder. And so begins a tumultuous legal proceeding with the eye of the town on them. His father happens to be the most respected judge in the county and has presided over the courthouse for 40 years. Facing the legal challenge of his career, Downey Jnr's character finds himself at moral odds with his father and struggles to find a way around the case. What appealed to me most about THE JUDGE was that it is more than a court-room movie and at its core is a homecoming story about self reflection, redemption and forgiveness. There is no question that it is also a tad too over-sentimental at times and the emotional crux of the film is often forced (but hey... ya put Bon Iver into a film - twice - and I'm down). There is also an overplayed high school sweetheart subplot that diminishes a lot of the film's oomph. Thankfully THE JUDGE is crammed with excellent performances from all involved. Downey Jr is superb and Duvall does... well, Duvall... well. They are supported by a solid cast including Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard and Jeremy Strong. Vera Farmiga plays the love interest, though she feels miscast and out of her depth. The film would have benefited from a shorter running time also but manages to hold it's own all the same. Considering that director David Dobkin's previous work includes THE WEDDING CRASHERS, SHANGHAU KNIGHTS and FRED CLAUS it is fair to say that he has stepped up his game and entered the big league. For what it's worth THE JUDGE is a smart and savvy legal drama that operates as a tangible personal journey. Downey Jr nails it.