To simply dismiss David Dobkin’s The Judge as just another court room drama, would be like saying all New Zealand movies begin and end with Peter Jackson. Of course it’s easy to draw comparisons to Matlock or take an easy dig at Downey Jnr’s Ironman franchise films but I think Dobkin who is more known for his comedic films (Shanghai Knights, Wedding crashers) equally excels at the dramatic and The Judge delivers a highly entertaining watch that’s definitely better than your standard Hollywood fare.
The secret of the film’s success is the talented cast and engaging script. Robert Duvall plays The Judge Joseph Palmer, a stoic pillar of the community who is now under suspicion of murder while Downey plays the son, a big city lawyer Hank Palmer returning to his childhood home who sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family. The tension between the two as father & son is touching, the rapport electric, as the movie weaves around these two central figures you discover more secrets that are latent in this quasi-dysfunctional family that probably aren’t as far removed from our own lives. Downey’s quick witted lines are delivered with gusto, while Robert Duvall is equally as solid.
It’s a cast of many and varied, but stand out performances for me are ex-flame Vera Farmiga, Law & Orders Vincent D’Onofrio (not so much crazy in this role) and Jeremy Strong (the simple brother with the 8mm camera) both play Downey’s two brothers in the film. Also keep an eye out for Billy Bob Thornton, he’s a bit redundant in his brief scenes as the opposing counsel but worth the mention.
I have to admit to hankering a good drama now and then, maybe it was because I was in the mood that The Judge got the better of me. It’s the kind of film that would translate just as well on the small screen, if the film didn’t have the high-caliber cast or Dobkin’s intelligent script I would seriously consider it flawed. I enjoyed the ebbs and flows of the film, the ability to be made to laugh, to feel awkward or the tug at the emotional heart strings speaks volumes of The Judge. Maybe “Ironside meets Ironman” would suffice as a one liner, but as Downey’s character nicely puts it “Innocent people can’t afford me” and by the end of the film his words are whittled sentiment. It’s not an easy watch clocking in at nearly three hours but time is relative and the Judge prevails. 7/10