The Judge is nothing more than a series of big moments dressed up as cohesive drama
Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home to defend its home town judge, who is also his estranged father. On the surface, The Judge feels fully equipped, but ultimately lacks dramatic value.
the ultra alpha male
The Judge starts strong. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is one of the best defence attorneys in Chicago. We meet him in the bathroom at the courthouse when the prosecuting attorney Mike Kattan (David Krumholtz) questions his ethics. Palmer has a record of defending guilty people, but Palmer refutes this accusation telling Kattan innocent people can't afford him. It's during this moment we see Downey Jr's now familiar confident persona come to the forefront. When Kattan asks how he sleeps at night, Palmer replies with the line, "I sleep in a beautiful house with a smoking hot wife." A line of dialogue only Downey Jr. could be happy delivering.
Unfortunately, this opening scene is only the beginning of many wise-cracks Downey Jr. delivers throughout its duration. The first act of this movie highlights Palmer's ability in the courtroom, making mincemeat of many, being the ultra alpha male we all know. It's a shame. Robert Downey Jr. is a smart actor, but he has seemingly slipped too far down the quick talking, smug actor avenue to be truly taken seriously in The Judge. It's a quality that works in his superhero antics as Iron Man, but would've best been left at home for this drama. His posturing wears thin, before too long.
We do get the occasional glimpse of his true worth as an actor, but those moments are few and far between or simply stolen away from him by a beautifully executed performance from screen veteran Robert Duvall.
predictable with sleazy swerves
The Judge begins to lend its weight towards its perceived dramatic values when we learn Palmer's wife is divorcing him, his daughter misses him and he has no contact with father. This all comes to a head when Palmer's mother abruptly dies, leading to a cold embrace between him and his father, judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). That's our in for this family orientated narrative, but the script fails to wholesomely build upon this family tension.
Rather, the movie veers into a direction of predictability and sleazy swerves. Many of the supporting cast are left in the doldrums. Our first glimpse of Billy Bob Thornton as Dwight Dickham gives us hope. This, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a false dawn. Thornton's character is simply sold short in the script, much like many others. It's at this point we begin to realise— we're here simply to watch Duvall and Downey Jr. riff on one another.
Robert Duvall is as charismatic as ever. He's a perfect fit for this role and plays it exceedingly well— something that isn't surprising given his repertoire. As for Downey Jr., I get it. His smirky persona fits well within his characters framework— even though it's a character trait he's played numerous times over. Downey Jr. sells, even though his narcissism restrains his ability. Of course, characters such as a grumpy old Duvall and a conceited Downey Jr. isn't a stretch for these guys to portray. But that's the only appeal for the audience— these two leading men, not its narrative. The Judge is simply a vehicle for these two to get themselves over again.
You can't help but feel a beat was missed. The family tension should've been heightened, rather than placing increased emphasis on a rather anti-dramatic and predictable courtroom. At its core, this movie is nothing more than a series of big scenes dressed up as a cohesive drama.