Toronto International Film Festival: Corny but watchable drama featuring great performances from Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall
The Judge is a corny, shamelessly manipulative wallow of a film made surprisingly watchable by the sheer charisma of acting heavyweights Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both veterans are cast according to type but lend conviction to even the cheesiest contrivances thrown up by this slick, pulpy blend of John Grisham-style courtroom drama and tale of generational reconciliation in the vein of On Golden Pond.
Downey Jr, in particular, seems to relish the tailor-made role of arrogant, fast-talking, hotshot defence lawyer Hank Palmer. When his mother dies, he is obliged to return to his small-town Indiana home and to the cold, cruel father that he has long resented. His father, Judge Joseph Palmer, is played by Duvall in a variation on the cantankerous old coot routine he has perfected in recent decades. There is even an echo of the demanding father figure he played in The Great Santini more than 30 years ago.
Along with re-opening old wounds and revisiting old girlfriends, Hank is suddenly called upon to exercise his professional expertise when his father is arrested and accused of murder. Naturally, the two men are soon at loggerheads but the prospect of a trial might be the one thing that forces them to set aside their differences and work in harmony.
Director David Dobkin is best known for a string of crass comedies that includes Fred Claus and The Change-Up. This is his most ambitious and polished work to date with glowing cinematography from Janusz Kaminski and an impressive cast that also includes Vera Farmiga and a steely Billy Bob Thornton as Hank's courtroom adversary Dwight Dickham. It tugs at the heartstrings a little too vigorously and overstays its welcome but The Judge still passes muster as able mainstream entertainment and Downey Jr gives it edge and class.
Screening as part of TIFF 2014. General release from Fri 17 Oct.