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Monday, March 02, 2015

The Judge

The Judge, a potboiler that managed to snag Robert Duvall an Oscar nomination, has David Dobkin as the credited director. But it seems to me that the director was Captain Obvious, as everything about this film is cliche-riddled and maudlin. Occasionally the fine performances win over, but not often enough.

Robert Downey Jr. is a hot-shot lawyer, the kind that only defends guilty people because "innocent people can't afford me." He's called back to his small Indiana hometown to attend his mother's funeral. He hasn't been back because of the tempestuous relationship with his father. Downey's daughter asks if her grandpa is dead, too. "He's dead to me," is the response.

Once back he reunites with his brothers, Jeremy Strong, as a mentally challenged man who uses his camera as a buffer, and his older brother, Vincent D'Onofrio, a once promising baseball player whose career was ruined when a high Downey crashed the car.

While there for the funeral, Duvall, as the father, a longtime fixture on the bench, has an incident with his car. It comes out that he struck a man and killed him, and that man was part of Duvall's worst decision as a judge. He is charged with vehicular murder, and a slick special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton) is brought in to try the case. After hiring a hapless local attorney (Dax Shepard, amusing) Duvall concedes and lets Downey represent him.

What we have here is a courtroom drama and a family drama. mashed together without artistry. Downy and Duvall's blow-ups are entertaining if unbelievable, and the courtroom scenes, based on my limited knowledge of the law, are somewhat realistic. But I refuse to believe a judge would tolerate a series of questions in which the father and son hash out their differences.

There are also needless subplots. I could have done without the character of Downey's old girlfriend, even she is played by Vera Farmiga. Then, to further that irrelevancy, we get a paternity sub-subplot. Some of the shots are straight out of a kit. One of my favorite is the shot of a funeral right after a character has died, just in case we missed that he is dead. Another is a scene in which Downey is already on a flight and has to leave because of news. In this day and age, it is almost impossible to do that, as the person's luggage would have to be removed out of security issues. Maybe Downey only had a carry on.

Dobkin played his straight for the middlebrow. It would have been nice to see a more adventurous director's take on this, although the screenplay would have had to have been deloused of the overly sentimental parts. Downey and Duvall deserved better.

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