In a world where great films are usually intense, intellectual films that require a lot of thought and concentration, it is refreshing to get a more mature film that actually allows you to see a captivating, original story in a very easy-going manner. The Judge, which isn’t a great film, is certainly an interesting one at least, and one that doesn’t require much thought, not because it is dumb or low-brow, but because it quite simply is just sedate and relaxed.
Robert Downey Jr. is a very charismatic performer, and he has probably had the most notable narrative of “former bad boy turns his career around”, and while his biggest career achievement by far is his role as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he is also a talented dramatic actor when he puts effort in, and in The Judge, he plays Hank Palmer, a sleazy but brilliant lawyer, and son of an ethical and morally-strong judge, from whom he is estranged. Downey succeeds at playing these sarcastic, arrogant characters, but in The Judge, he takes it to another level by making him more human than many of his previous performances. Downey may not give the performance of his career (that will forever be Tropic Thunder or Chaplin), but he does a good job playing Hank, and it is actually refreshing to see him in a smaller movie.
There is another iconic Robert in this movie – Robert Duvall, a Hollywood legend. He plays Joseph Palmer, the grumpy but fair judge of the local Indiana courthouse, where he has presided over thousands of cases over his 42 years as a judge. It is easy for older actors, particularly ones considered legends, to phone it in and give a mediocre performance and rely on their name and age to get people in the seats. Unfortunately, Duvall doesn’t do anything particularly special in The Judge, but luckily for him, the role doesn’t dictate anying of that manner. The role is intended for an older actor who can pull off the image of being a fair, but tough, old judge. Duvall does his best, but in the end, it all depends on the writing, and while the writing didn’t exactly let him down, Duvall wasn’t particularly notable. However, that doesn’t stop us from feeling for him, and Duvall’s performance may be considered the actor just playing himself, but the character is the most meaningful in the film, and the one we feel the biggest emotional connection to. It is a safe, but effective, Hollywood veteran role, and Duvall delivered.
The Judge isn’t great – it has numerous plot holes and little problems that prevent it from being the masterpiece it wants to be. First of all, it is way too long. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, it is way too long for a film of its genre. A film of that length needs to be an epic or science fiction adventure, not a small pseudo-indie drama. I wouldn’t have minded the length if the film occupied that space well enough – but unfortunately, a huge chunk of the film was filler material that was absolutely useless and served no purpose other than to get in the way of the film’s conclusion, which was in itself…a bit disappointing. The biggest issue with these type of films are they try and appear grandiose and epic by adding a lot of meaningless drivel to the plot, and that seriously hampered this film. It was just too long, and anyone could be forgiven for nodding off near the end.
In the end, I thought The Judge was entertaining enough – it was harmless, occasionally funny, somewhat original (the judge becoming the accused) and told an interesting story. It could have definitely been a whole lot better, but the performances in this film – particularly from Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, along with the always lovely Vera Farmiga, who give it their all and make use of the mediocre script and melodramatic directing style that would be more suitable for a television movie. It isn’t a terrible film, and it served its own purpose, and kept me entertained just enough for me to bear the entire length of the film.
Not great, but just good enough to be entertaining.