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Judge, The

8/10

Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Billy Bob Thornton, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Grace Zabriskie, Sarah Lancaster, Mark Kiely

Director: David Dobkin

There’s something enjoyably old-fashioned about the story concocted by director David Dobkin and Nick Schenk, the latter co-writing the melodramatic blend of clashing family emotions and courtroom drama with Bill Dubuque. The dialogue is deft and imbued with a sharp cynicism that helps give the key characters credible depth.

More importantly, perhaps, The Judge gives Robert Downey Jr an opportunity to act rather than simply strut around cased in metal and movie magic as Iron Man or playing a rather less-than-convincing Sherlock Holmes.

Here he hits the mark as a conscience-free (he urinates on an opposing attorney in the courtroom toilet) big-time (“Innocent people can’t afford me”) Chicago lawyer who heads home to small-town Indiana for his mother’s funeral and a less than welcome reunion with his estranged father Robert Duvall and brothers Vincent D’Onofrio and oddball Jeremy Strong.

It doesn’t take long for Downey Jr to fall out with his family again. But when bloody-minded local judge Duvall is arrested on a charge of murder, Dobkin deftly switches from backbiting family feuding to a gripping courtroom thriller where Downey Jr joins novice local defence lawyer Dax Shepard in court, a task that after being told a local in a bar tells him his father “thinks he runs this town – your dad’s a piece of shit” that turns out to be far from easy.

Billy Bob Thornton scores, too, as Duvall’s silky-spoken prosecutor, D’Onofrio is his usual quivering-with-subtext self-consciousness and Vera Farmiga and Leighton Meester handle their relatively minor roles effectively.

But the show rightly belongs to Downey Jr and Duvall who give their all without overdoing it and even succeed in bringing off a rather over-emotional climax.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour.
141 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 31 Oct 2014