The Judge

Out Now On-Demand

Defend your honour.

Courtoom melodrama from the director of Clay Pigeons, starring Robert Downey Jr as a big city lawyer who returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral only to discover that his estranged father, the town's judge (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder.

Part courtroom standoff, part dude-returns-home-to-small-town tale and part familial dramedy, The Judge juggles its components in pleasant enough fashion to warrant a low-expectation recommendation. Pleasingly, the two Roberts (Downey Jr. and Duvall) who top the cast list and square off as father and son bring their acting A games, with Duvall in particular helping coax Downey Jr. out of his usual glib comfort zone - though this over-exposed facet of the latter’s personality comes in handy as a brash, show-off, unscrupulous defence attorney.

Director David Dobkin’s most successful film to date has been Wedding Crashers, which doesn’t hint at what’s on offer here, not that his terrible, more recent fare (Fred Claus, The Change-Up) does either. One would have to look back to 1998’s underrated Clay Pigeons to get a sense of how he can blend comedy and drama, although The Judge doesn’t go to the blackly comic depths of that Coen-ish effort. Dobkin weaves a natural humour throughout proceedings, the unrushed results demonstrating a seldom-seen knack for a natural, emotionally anchored story.

Even as The Judge piles on familiar elements – abandoned high school sweetheart; storm timed for maximum emotional catharsis; skeletons in the family closet; even a stereotypically guileless intellectually handicapped brother called upon for a few laughs (while thankfully never going “full retard”) – little feels over-egged, besides the plausibility-stretching conclusion to the father/son courtroom narrative.

While the supporting cast (Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga) shoulder their share of the load without hogging the spotlight, this is Downey Jr. and Duvall’s film, and Dobkin has helped deliver some of their strongest work in years.

Guardian (UK)

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Sadly there's no denying the charge: first-degree cheese, with intent.

Time Out London

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A charismatic performance from Downey Jr and the growling presence of Duvall makes up for a multitude of sins in this big and brash family drama that puts the heavy emphasis on drama over family.

Variety (USA)

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Pivots on a simple yet inspired stroke of casting, pitting Duvall’s iconic gravitas against Downey’s razor-sharp wit.

Hollywood Reporter

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Undercut by obvious note-hitting in the writing and a deliberate pace that drags things out about twenty minutes past their due date.

At The Movies (Australia)

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There's a lot going on here, all of it interesting, some of it genuinely suspenseful and even moving.

Telegraph (UK)

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A guilty conviction for Dobkin: first-degree, low-grade schlock.

New York Times

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[The scenes] add up to a sprawl of narrative that is as unconvincing as the suspiciously sprawl-free, nostalgia-tinged town where it all takes place.

Empire (UK)

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A great cast and promising premise get swamped in an awkward mix of airport-novel noir and blokey family melodrama.

Surprise

Thank heavens we ignored the reviewers and gave this movie a chance. Found it emotionally satisfying with well drawn characters, superbly played by the central actors. Although a long movie it kept you interested from start to finish. Don't miss it.


Emotional angst aplenty

An emotional story that may be more suited to being an afternoon drama soap or a TV movie with formulaic cliches every ten minutes or so. Very long and finished later than I thought. Is this a John Grisham book I haven't read?


Too much to handle

If the film rests itself simply on the father-son relationship, it will be much better than trying to touch too many aspects of life. The 141 minutes is at all unnecessary.