As an actors’ showcase, The
Judge scores high; if you enjoy watching Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall,
Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and/or Vincent D’Onofrio, you won’t be
wasting the considerable time you invest. But the film bites off more than it
can chew, trying to tackle a difficult father-son relationship, a complex family
dynamic, a courtroom mystery-drama, the challenge of dealing with an aging
parent, and a bittersweet look at returning to one’s hometown after many years
away. It’s not surprising that three writers are credited, including director
David Dobkin, but it’s a shame no one shaped the material into a more fluid and
The charismatic Downey is well within his comfort zone
playing a cocky attorney who defends high-profile miscreants but can’t keep his
marriage together. When his mother dies he flies back to his Indiana hometown to
face his unforgiving father, who has been the presiding judge there for
decades. He reunites with his brothers (D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and
strikes up a spark or two with his onetime girlfriend (Farmiga), but can’t make
any headway with Dad. He’s about to head home when his father is arrested for
murder… and the plot thickens.
There are many good moments and striking scenes in this
sprawling movie (which has no reason to run well over two hours), but their
effect is muted because the through-line of the story is so ill-defined. That
said, it’s still rewarding to watch so many talented actors at the top of their
game—including the underrated Vera Farmiga, who brings so much life to her
character; The Girl Who Got Away.
Duvall is as commanding as ever, playing a man in his 70s
(even though he’s actually a decade beyond that), and his face-offs with Downey
are potent. D’Onofrio and Strong are also effective as siblings who share a
troubled history with their brother.
The end result is a mixed bag. Great actors always tip the
scales, but if justice were truly being served, The Judge would have had a tighter script.