Movie Review: ‘The Judge’ Holds Itself In Contempt


Cole Clay // Critic

our rating: ☆☆

our rating: ☆☆

Robert Downey Jr. is a damn fine actor whose success has been predicated on the level of condescension he brings to his work. This coerces the audience into believing they are as quick-witted and shrewd as his characters, namely Tony Stark. But as mesmerizing as Downey Jr. may be, he is merely a journeyman when compared to true masters of the acting craft.

With that being said, THE JUDGE hinges itself upon the father-son duo, played obviously by Robert Duvall and Downey Jr. respectfully. What is the result you may ask? It’s easy – a slew of heavy-handed clichés, a box of empty tissues and a number of nauseating scenes. Oh, and there is an incest B-plot that sneaks in mid-way through.

THE JUDGE follows big city lawyer named Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) as he begrudgingly returns home after ten years following the death of his mother. There his estranged father (Duvall), who is also the town’s judge and suspected of murder. Hank then sets out to discover the truth, mend fences with the same moral platitude of a network TV drama. Sounds a lot like GARDEN STATE minus the trendy soundtrack.

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play father and son in THE JUDGE. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play father and son in THE JUDGE. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Director David Dobkin (WEDDING CRASHERS) desperately wanted to create a sprawling tale about a reeling family, and kudos to that fact, but THE JUDGE is nothing more than an overwrought family film with a random appearance by Billy Bob Thornton and a few F-bombs for dramatic effect.

THE JUDGE is not a total waste, it’s just an easy film to tease, but to be fair Dobkin and Downey Jr. set the film up to receive high level of criticism. By this point in his career, Downey Jr. can pull off the snarky, successful narcissist bit in his sleep. And who knows how many performances Duvall has left in the tank before he retires from cinema. There is one fantastic scene featuring Downey Jr. and Duvall that starkly show the effects of old-age that is simply heart-breaking.

Court Adjourned.

THE JUDGE opens tonight at 10 p.m. in participating theaters, and opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.