Movie Review: ‘The Judge’ Holds Itself In Contempt

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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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.