The Judge

WRITTEN BY: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque
DIRECTED BY: David Dobkin
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio
RATING: 4 stars

The Judge is a courtroom drama with family issues at the heart of the tale. It is a character-driven film with a stellar cast and a poignant message. The film runs for about 140 minutes and could have been edited down a little bit, although it is never really boring. Unfortunately, the last half hour is a little bit melodramatic and lame, but the film still works overall to tug at the heartstrings. The Judge is sad and even depressing in parts, but it is also beautiful and warm.

Slick lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) returns to his childhood home after his mother dies suddenly. But Hank's relationship with his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town's judge, is strained. It is only when Joseph is accused of a murder that Hank begins to reconnect with him and it seems Hank is the only one capable of saving the judge from going to prison for the rest of his life.

Downey suits this role perfectly. Hank is the kind of lawyer who “innocent people can't afford” and he is full of wisecracks. Downey lends some honesty to the role and makes Hank, who is heavily flawed with his superficial lifestyle, somehow sweet and vulnerable. Duvall must surely garner some attention come award season with his portrayal of the firm but fair judge. He has great chemistry with Downey and the slow reveal of how deep their mutual painful memories run is great to watch. There is a bathroom scene with the duo that is both tragic and full of love.

The supporting cast includes Vincent D'Onofrio as Hank's older brother who carries his own torture on his shoulders after his potential baseball career was thwarted as a teenager. Jeremy Strong plays the younger, mentally impaired brother, whose life revolves around home movies. Vera Farmiga is great as the local cafe owner and Hank's ex-girlfriend who gives him the reality check he needs. Leighton Meester also features to add some light comedy to an otherwise very dramatic film. Billy Bob Thornton also appears as the prosecuting lawyer out to equal a score with Hank.

Director David Dobkin is perhaps best known for his comedies, but he has delivered a solid dramatic film.