Robert Downey Jr’s latest effort to become the most typecast actor of recent Hollywood history at worst accomplishes this aim, and at best makes for a highly commendable, if sentimental, film. The Judge, a collaboration between producer/actor Downey Jr and writer/producer/director David Dobkin follows big city, heart-of-stone lawyer Hank Palmer’s attempts to reconcile his differences with his small town, heart-of-stone judicator father, when the latter is convicted of the murder of a former defendant in the wake of his wife’s sudden death. The plot is simple (and exhibits minor flaws) but effective; character nuances, though neither intricate nor fully developed, are nonetheless interesting.
Suggesting that Downey Jr’s self-appointed protagonistic role is typecast, while without a degree of untruth, perhaps occludes the power of his performances – the dialogue between Hank and father Judge (portrayed near flawlessly here by cinema veteran Robert Duvall) is perhaps without a doubt the real highlight of the film. While Dobkin’s screenplay never truly sets itself up as an exceptional piece of writing, Downey Jr and Duvall’s ability to so effectively execute stilted conversation seldom fails to amaze.
It is perhaps not in the performance but in the writing of these characters that the film finds one of its greatest flaws. The premise – the attempts of three estranged sons to alleviate their hostilities and unite around both the death of their mother and impending conviction of their father – carries the potential to be a truly great character study or social commentary. To some extent, there is a degree of success; however, the film’s apparent preoccupation with sentimentalism and often clumsy characterisation remain detracting features.
Many of the film’s key characters, while enacted competently, serve little real purpose to either further the plot or contribute to the central relationship between Hank and Judge Palmer. Unfortunately dim-witted Dale Palmer (Jeremy Strong) and his sole hobby of analogue cameras conveniently provide flickery footage of the boys’ childhood at the film’s most sentimental moments. Glen Palmer (Vincent D’Onofrio), though perhaps the most interesting and identifiable of the three sons, is tragically under-written, and perhaps it might be for the better not to discuss the complete nonsensicality of the inclusion of Vera Farmiga as Hank’s “old flame” Samantha.
The potential for Dobkin’s The Judge to utilise some fantastic acting and a gripping plot does not go fully unrealised – however, its tendency to pander to sentimentalism ultimately diminishes the appeal of both its characters and its storyline.
The Judge is in cinemas nationwide on 17th October 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Judge here: