You know, in case you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to have Iron Man be your lawyer.
“The Judge” brings us Robert Downey Jr. as a lawyer who is at odds with his judge father played by Robert Duvall and what happens when he then must defend him in court from charges that could ruin his life. The movie also plays in and out of the history of this family and the town they live in, allowing heritage and influence to play a major role in both the outcome and the proceedings. All this without the aid of a flying metal suit and high octane special effects.
But you know what? Downey proves he doesn’t need them, and I for one am glad to see him back in full acting mode. Don’t get me wrong, his wit and charm are still fully present, he wouldn’t be RDJ without them, but he also gets to prove that he can truly run the gamut of emotions and he pulls it off spectacular. Which is key when you are acting against the other Robert D. because Duvall is laying it on the line here as well, fully locked into his strength of sincerity and power that creates an incredible dynamic between them. In fact, I thought the acting down the line was really powerful in this and made the family dynamic stuff in the plot feel absolutely genuine and worth exploring. But this movie is about more than a family, it’s about a court case remember? And despite the duo of dueling Roberts, thats where the movie’s case doesn’t quite hold together.
It’s just not compelling enough. I mean it’s fun to see Downey Jr. handle a jury and all, but to what point? We have been trained by countless CSIs, NCISs, and other initialed TV shows to spot the twists and turns of looking for clues and solving cases, but here there just isn’t much interesting going on. Which would be fine if the courtroom drama part of it were just a backdrop, but the movie seems to want it to be the central construct, and there just isn’t enough pay off for the amount of time we the jury have spent in deliberations. Plus, there are so many other side stories and relational investments that it becomes hard to know what the movie is really about. Is it about a divorce, an illness, an old girlfriend, guilt of the past, what it means to be a father, how life plans change? The answer unfortunately is all of the above, which is like answer K if you are following along at home on your pop movie quiz. And I should mention including all those relationships, backstories, and movie genres doesn’t happen quickly making the movie much longer than it really needs to be.
By the time it’s over, “The Judge” is a jumbled mish mash of movie tropes and types with a courtroom drama at the center that just isn’t that interesting. It’s only because of the incredible performances of Downey and Duvall that I’m persuaded to render my verdict a C+