Some movies aren’t designed to win Oscars or be particularly groundbreaking. Sometimes, they are simply engineered to make you feel something or take you back to a place where movies were simple and provided escapism. They may remind you of something in your life or someone else’s.
The Judge is as sappy as a brand new bottle of maple syrup, but the performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Durvall elevate a been there seen that script and plot and take it to another level. As a father and son colliding over a murder case after the mom dies, Downey Jr. and Duvall make you feel everything. We may not see them do this again so this film is a real treat.
David Dobkin’s direction does a good job of telling the camera where to be so the actors can act the shit out of a script(written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque) with a few good one liners but mostly patched together from past courtroom dramas with a tinge of romance involved for in the final bake. The studio knew what it was doing when it green lit this picture. RDJ and Duvall, a pair of veteran maestros, volleying lines back and forth with a little extra on each stroke. That’s lightning in a bottle. It never feels like a waste. Billy Bob Thornton stops in as the opposing lawyer, a crocodile in a suit. He’s serviceable just like Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onofrio are as an old flame and brother of RDJ. They serve as filler for the real show and that’s Downey and Duvall.
He’s a hotshot young defense attorney who makes a living keeping bad men out of jail until he ends up defending a dad he despises for vehicular manslaughter. The details are fuzzy at first but by the time they materializes into something halfway familiar, you don’t mind. You are watching a couple of pros work the circuit court.
The Judge is riddled with cliches and full of holes and familiar territory but it survives on great acting. A dynamic duo that is hard to miss. While the film doesn’t do anything new, the pairing of Downey Jr. and Duvall make it it seem fresh.
The soundtrack didn’t hurt the visuals, carrying a score from my favorite composer, Thomas Newman. He can do more with a couple of piano players than most composers can with eighteen different musicians. Bon Iver’s soulful track “Holocene” is used very effectively, and made me think of my late grandmother, Meme. Like I said, some films aim for the heart and hope they get close enough to the bullseye to make you care.
The Judge isn’t gold on the ceiling but it’s quite far from crap. Grab it at Redbox for the bargain price of 1.63.
*The Joe Louis documentary, Joe Louis: American’s Hero…Betrayed, is powerful and informative. I had no clue the country used him as a stage show before World War II and then piledrived him with taxes until he was old and couldn’t make money in the ring. A man who charged a country by beating Max Schmeling before Hitler started a war should have gotten some better protection but back then, people carried more than hate. They carried venom. Louis was a hero and got kicked in the ribs. Sad but true 80 minutes of painful history narrated by the one and the only Liev Schreiber.
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