It’s getting to be that time of year when we start to see character-driven dramas with some usually fantastic performances. Robert Downey Jr.’s entry into that genre is The Judge and people are hoping that this performance might break him free from the Iron Man mold and give him some new directions to go in.
The gist is that Downey stars as a lawyer in the big city who is known for representing the bad guys and getting them off the hook. He’s wildly successful but his marriage is on the rocks and in the opening moments, he gets word that his mother has passed away. He ventures back to smalltown Indiana and reconnects with his family but struggles to find a connection with his father (Robert Duvall), who is a judge in the town. Just as Downey’s character is about to leave, it comes to light that his father may have murdered someone and is now on trial, which Downey must assist in to keep his father from a life in prison.
Starting with the written page, this is a smartly written film. There’s a mystery, similar to Gone Girl, which we slowly uncover piece by piece. We have some sentimental moments but we also have very gritty and real interactions that perfectly echo a real family.
Downey gives a stellar performance. He does spend a good portion of the film in his comfort zone as the witty and sarcastic ladies’ man, but as the movie progresses, he gets some great moments where he can get vulnerable and show off a different side. Stealing the show, though, is Robert Duvall. His performance here is gutwrenching and there are a few scenes that bring you to tears. Their chemistry is perfect and there are some really subtle and nuanced moments that sell the history that these two have together.
Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard, and Vincent D’Onfrio all do a great job in their respective supporting roles as well.
What doesn’t work?
The movie can be a tad long but the story doesn’t drag. In terms of film quality, it also seems relatively grainy and antiquated, when compared to other films. Just the picture quality seemed outdated.
The Judge is a great film that may likely result in an Oscar nod for Duvall. It’s a smart movie, that manages to be funny and serious almost simultaneously, mostly due to Downey walking that fine line. It’s a little long and may not stand out when compared to Gone Girl, which is a superior film. It’s a lighter film though, so those looking for a little more escapism may choose to enjoy The Judge instead.