The Judge—Movie Review

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 cohesive screenplay.

Photo by Claire Folger - Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Photo by Claire Folger – Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024