Robert Downey Junior attempts a hop, skip and jump from the world of Iron suits to that of gold statuettes with this admittedly heavy-handed but, at times, quite enthralling story of a slick lawyer’s return to his hometown and the defendant he is forced to take on. The case: a puzzling hit and run. The main suspect: his own father.
As most things American, this is a film about father and son, played here by Robert Duvall and Downey Jr. respectfully. Dad’s an honourable judge in small town Indiana; his prodigal son a hot-shot defence attorney living in Chicago. The younger man returns home to attend his mother’s funeral but is met with little warmth. He’s quick to turn on his heels but the homecoming is unexpectedly prolonged when dad kills a man while out driving that very night. Downey Jr. steps in to defend his old man, not knowing the ethical and emotional conundrums which lay in wait.
The set-up packs a few surprises and, for the most part, it works. Duvall’s staunch geriatric sees the law as something honourable and just; but to his son it’s a malleable profession, open to interpretations. You would hope that such moral Rubik’s cubes would offer director David Dobkin enough to go on but instead we’re forced to swallow whole helpings of sentimental clichés. We could scrap the older brother with the lost baseball career and the younger brother with the disability and still have a fine, presumably more focused, film, but then award season does beckon.
Indeed, with its heavy handed deliveries and earnest sweeping emotions, The Judge does little to dodge those pitfalls we’ve come to expect around this time of year. And yet, seeing swaggering RDJ and tireless Bobby Duvall duking it out over all that moral code and retribution stuff, I can think of worse ways to spend a cold grey autumn evening.
(Insert courtroom pun ending here).
The Judge | Directed by David Dobkin (USA, 2014) with Robert Downey Junior & Robert Duvall. Starts October 16