REVIEW: The Judge

1 11 2014

The Judge” tries to be a lot of things, among them a courtroom drama, a family drama, an illness drama, and a relationship drama.  It’s a shame that amidst all that action, seldom does the film manage to be any good.

It’s certainly admirable that Robert Downey, Jr. wants to convert his mainstream credibility into something of greater cinematic value.  But the effort is in vain as “The Judge,” which he and his wife Susan produced, bites off more than it can chew in nearly every aspect.  Their one genius move was bringing Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for Steven Spielberg’s last two decades of work, on board to give the film the sheen of prestige.  (Not as great a hire? Director David Dobkin, whose recent credits include “Fred Claus” and “The Change-Up.”)

Kaminski’s beautiful rays of ambient light flood every frame, but the beauty largely stops there.  “The Judge” meanders for the whole of its runtime – a bloated 140 minutes – without ultimately settling on any kind of identity.  Every time one of its subplots begins to pick up steam, the film inexplicably shifts gears to follow another one.  As such, momentum never builds, and “The Judge” just begins to feel like a life sentence.  One with lots of cloying montages set to Bon Iver.

Robert Downey Jr The Judge

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Downey is doing the same old schtick he’s been peddling for the past six years, be it as Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes.  He does switch suits to play the grandiloquent lawyer Hank Palmer as he defends his estranged father, small-town judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), yet it feels all too similar.  No one else in the vast ensemble, which includes actors like Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton, has sufficient character development to relieve the lifeless leads.

Downey – and Duvall, for that matter – has done this part so many times that it can no longer excite.   The days of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” or “Tropic Thunder” feel long gone.  It would appear that every role, no matter what, is required to reify Downey’s smug smart-ass persona in the Marvel cinematic universe.

“The Judge” is the kind of moderately budgeted adult drama that does not get made by Hollywood studios anymore unless, of course, a star like Downey gets on board.  The film’s poor execution, however, makes its existence counterproductive.  If they can’t make them like they used to do, why bother to make them at all?  The lack of inspiration is not limited to Downey’s movies with big explosions; “The Judge” shows that its a more endemic problem plaguing all of Hollywood.  C2stars



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