The Judge Review
A drama film which features two leading performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Sounds like a big ball of awesome, doesn't it? That is surely what it sounded like to me. Add Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Bob Thorton, Dax Shepherd, Leighton Meester, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Melissa Leo and Grace Zabriskie and you have a recipe for success. Watching Downey Jr.'s resurrection in 2008 was incredibly welcoming and it seemed like he has been his old self since then. Even at such an old age, he would never star in a movie that his younger self would have laughed at, right? This entire cast of remarkable actors would no better than to star in an overlong, clichéd, laughable mess, right?
I am honestly shocked by what I am about to right. So much to the point that I can only hope that I can due justice to the words I am putting to blogosphere right now. I am wildly curious to see how others have reacted to this film. This is a movie I would never have thought Downey Jr. nor Duvall would ever in a million years make. Both of these actors are better than this, in fact, this entire cast is better than this. "The Judge" is a Greatest Hits CD of all your favorite courtroom and family dramas put into one movie. It is cliché after cliché to absolutely no avail. It is a movie that tugs on your heart strings for the sake of tugging on them. Not because it has something thought-provoking to offer, not because it tells a great story well, it just simply wants your eyes to water. I guess it is built this way in hope that the casual audience member can smell the steaming pile of crap "The Judge" really is.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a ruthless lawyer in Chicago who stereotypically defense the bad guys, because that is cool in Hollywood in all. Watching the opening scene alongside David Krumholtz, I knew something was immediately off. Basically, if you ever wondered what Tony Stark would be like if his parents never got murdered, and he became a lawyer instead of a superhero, that's Hank Palmer. It seems Downey Jr. has suddenly slipped into self-parody for this movie. He looks good in his defense attorney suits, he's wisecracking, he's good-looking and he has an unbelievably creepy make-out session with Leighton Meester's character. He's his familiar persona, through and through, cranked up to a level that I didn't find appealing.
Hank Palmer is called back to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana so that Hank can be at the funeral of his deceased mother. We meet Hank's brothers Glenn (D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), we meet Hank's old flame (Farmiga) and we meet Hank's father Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall). Joseph and Hank have not been close for many years, I know due to the fact that once Hank's comes home for the funeral, the film beats us over the head with that information for a solid half-hour. Once the funeral is over, Hanks hops back on a plane to Chicago, only having to turn around once blood is found on Joseph's car and he is accused of a hit-and-run. Hank knows his dad will need help, even though he was the most respected judge in their tiny community, and Hank swallows his pride to help him. While this is a juicy set-up, the back-and-forth just to get there was so tedious and felt as if the crew never hired an editor.
I think it is hard, even at this point in his career, for Robert Duvall to do bad in front of the camera. He gives a one-dimensional character as written unsuspecting life onscreen. Anytime Duvall was onscreen, my interest perked. I can also say that D'Onofrio and Farmiga's work is also quite strong, and they make the most out of the lazy moments in the script. The actors do what they can, but its the script that levels them. Billy Bob Thorton's Dwight Dickham is the lawyer trying to convict Joseph of First Degree Murder and his character is written so broadly that I thought I was watching a cartoon. Jeremy Strong does what he can with Dale, a "slow" member of the Palmer family, but after Robert Downey Jr's monologue speech from "Tropic Thunder," its odd that he even signed on to do this.
It is tough to sit through a courtroom drama trying to be impressing when it feels so ordinary and plastically. There is a scene involving Downey Jr. and Duvall arguing during a tornado storm that seem so ridiculous that I had a hard time believing it was written in a script. There are enough endings in this movie to give "The Return of the King" a run for its money. And again, with the overlong feel of the movie, seriously where was the editor. I feel like this film could have at least run smoother with some editing involved.
It's hard to watch actors you cherish so much sign on to do a movie this bad. What was everybody thinking? What draws actors to Teflon fluff like "The Judge?" Are they drawn to the ordinary predictability? Do they find it heartwarming? I will never understand, but each of them would have been better off skipping this one, as will the audience.
FINAL GRADE: D