The Hokey Sentimentalism Of 'The Judge' At Least Has Robert Downey, Jr.
With his metal exoskeleton on hiatus until the next inevitable installment of Marvel's own personal ATM, Robert Downey, Jr. takes on a more low-key showcase of his sarcastic quips in the old-fashioned courtroom drama The Judge. Even in the middle of a story about Midwestern nuclear families and Small Town, America, Downey can't help but be yet another rich jerk in a suit, as a big-city attorney in Chicago who makes proclamations like, "I respect the law but I am not encumbered by it." When the death of his mother forces him back to his roots in Carlinville, Indiana, Hank Palmer returns home to confront the only hardass he can't stand up to, his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).
Directed in an aggressively mediocre manner by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), the performances by its all-star cast and gorgeous classical cinematography of Steven Spielberg's usual DP Janusz Kamiński at least help the saccharine proceedings of The Judge go down smoothly and briskly. Hank, who can't stand to remain in the land of emerald green lawns and white picket fences, is forced to stay in town when Judge Palmer must take the stand in his own courtroom as the defendant in a murder trial. It's the stuff of television movies and corny paperback novels, as past mistakes and grievances have to be confronted in both the trial and in the personal lives of the Palmers.
Instead of falling flat on its face with overbearingly heavy material, The Judge instead feels toothless (excessive use of a Bon Iver song, be damned) and never achieves the pathos is strives for. The stately courtroom scenes are as familiar as they go, between cross-examinations being used as podiums for their characters pronouncements and gasping jury members. At least Kamiński's smokey indoor cinematography reminiscent of his work in Spielberg's Lincoln serves as their backdrop. In between a cast that also includes heavyweights as Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio stands out as Hank's brother and the hometown sports star that didn't make it. The Judge adds up to more hokey sentimentalism, but at least its role players put in good work.
The Judge opens everywhere today.