Cary, NC — The Judge, a passion project for star Robert Downey, Jr, who also produced, finds the actor in his first non superhero or franchise leading role in 4 years. Unfortunately, even with strong leading performances from Downey and Robert Duvall, who plays the titular character facing a murder trial, The Judge can’t overcome its uneven tone and familiar plot.
Downey Can Bring It, But Can The Judge?
I think people have forgotten how good of an actor Robert Downey, Jr can be. Granted, he has been great as Tony Stark each time out, but I think you have to go back to 2007 to his last great dramatic performance in the crime procedural Zodiac. In that film, Downey displayed his now familiar fast paced snarkiness, as well as his ability to show a person that is overcome with their own flaws and becomes broken to a point of no return. It’s a great performance in a great film, and I was really hoping The Judge would give him another chance to shine like that. But alas, that’s not the case.
To be fair, Downey is perfectly fine in the role, it was tailor made for him after all. But really it’s the film’s script and directing that fails him. The plot centers around Downey, a hotshot Chicago defense attorney who comes home to Indiana for his mothers’ funeral and ends up having to represent his estranged father in a murder trial, which in turn forces the two to put aside their differences and reconnect. It all comes off a little too hokey though, mostly due to a weird mash-up of comedy and drama that never quite gels.
Moments of Comedy and Drama Don’t Quite Mix
Director David Dobkin, best known for the comedy Wedding Crashers, can’t seem to decide what kind of movie he wants to make. There are moments in the film that are startlingly dramatic and human, such as a scene between Downey and Duvall in a bathroom that will certainly hit home with a lot of viewers. But then there are moments of comedy that are so out of left field and sitcom-like that it completely undercuts any genuine drama that might be happening in the movie. The result gives the viewer a very whiplash like feeling.
It’s not all bad though. Duvall is great, as the “tough but fair” authority figure. And anytime Vera Farmiga ( Up in the Air, The Departed) is onscreen it’s always a good thing.
I’d also like to give Downey some extra credit for at least attempting to make a great, studio driven, R-rated adult drama. As I mentioned, he produced this film along with his producing partner/wife, Susan Downey. Studios seem less and less interested in making movies like these, though we’ve been lucky the last year or two with great films like Prisoners, Rush, 12 Years A Slave and most recently Gone Girl. So I certainly hope Mr. Downey, Jr continues to take the time between giant superhero movies to try and make smaller, human stories that showcase his great talent.
A Good Try, But Not Worth A Trip To the Theater
This time however, with The Judge, it didn’t quite work out. Duvall is great and Downey does what he can, but the end result is too uneven for me to recommend this movie. Maybe next time, though.
Jordan Hunt covers the movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews.