Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

October 17, 2014

Jury’s out!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

October 17, 2014

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester

Director: David Dobkin

The Judge, produced by and starring Robert Downey Jr, is the kind of bloated film that might have benefitted from a few judicious rewrites. It’s a simple enough story crammed with too many subplots and distractions that water down the drama at its core.

Downey is Hank Palmer, a cocky, big-shot Chicago defense lawyer, the sort that has a smug look permanently plastered on his face. When his mother dies, he returns to his childhood home in rural Indiana for the first time in 20 years. Things unfortunately are still tense between him and his disapproving dad (Robert Duvall), the town’s beloved judge.

This is your typical tale of familial friction – stubborn dad versus rebellious son – but the writers throw in another half-dozen conflicts to stir the pot. Central among these is a murder charge against the old man, which unfolds in the manner of a did-he-didn’t-he courtroom thriller as Hank steps in as his father’s attorney. But hang on, there are also unresolved issues with one of his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio), a childhood sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) who’s still carrying a torch for him, and the issue of his own crumbling marriage.

The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the tension between Palmer Jr and Sr, mainly because Duvall is riveting when he’s on screen. In one scene, while a tornado rages outside, the two men argue with fiery intensity, digging up old wounds. It’s one of the best bits in this film. Downey, sarcastic and self-aware as ever, infuses Hank with the same kind of oily charm he lends to Tony Stark. It’s a very watchable performance but one that feels a little too familiar.

Sitting there witnessing the film unfold over 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s clear there is a crisper, better movie in there somewhere, but director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers) never stops piling on the clichés, ultimately reducing The Judge to a kind of hokey made-for-television movie. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five; watch it for Duvall and Downey who breathe life into a mediocre script.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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