Judge, The: Sentimental Father-Son Melodrma, Starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr.

the_judge_posterSentimental, old-fashioned, and formulaic, David Dobkin’s “The Judge” functions as a strong vehicle for two great actors, both named Robert, vet Oscar-winner Robert Duvall and bright Oscar-nominee Robert Downey Jr.

Serving as opening night of the 2014 Toronto Film Fest, “The Judge” likely will divide critics, though early marketing suggested that this is one of Warner’s Oscar-caliber movies, slated to be released October 10.

Based on my first impressions, “The Judge” is neither an Oscar-caliber film, nor an art film we expect to see in film festivals.

It’s nice to see Robert Downey Jr. operating outside his comfort level of comic strip movies (“Iron Man,” “The Avengers”), even if by playing a more normal and ordinary guy, he often succumbs to over-theatricality (in some sequences, almost chewing the scenery).


the_judge_3_downey_duvallThe text is so conventional and predictable that it may not merit the attention of actors of the caliber of Duvall and Downey Jr.  Even so, viewers who like well-acted melodramas—and this is, after all, a male weepie—should enjoy “The Judge” as the kind of film that is not made so much anymore.

Screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque, working from a story by Dobkin and Schenk, have constructed a tale in which the characters are well suited to the specifications of each star’s talents and skills.

Arguably, Duvall could have played in his sleep the part of an overbearing father whose troubled relationship with his son is put on trial—literally and figuratively.

Downey plays Hank Palmer, a brilliant Chicago defense attorney who excels at getting white-collar criminals off the hook. Troubled domestic life points to a divorce and custody battle over his young daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay).

As is often the norm with such melodramas, in a rather contrived mode, Hank is forced to go back to Carlinville, Indiana, when his mother dies, despite the fact that he had hoped never to do so.  This move forces him to confront his estranged father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), an irascible and stubborn man set on his ways, who had never approved of—or reconciled–his son’s move to the Big City.

The supporting cast includes Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga.

There’s much publicity recently over the fact that Downey Jr. is the highest-paid actor in Hollywood right now.  “The Judge” is the kind of courtroom drama that Hollywood doesn’t make any more.

Downey Jr., one of cinema’s most successful superheroes, was able to get this passion project greenlit due to his “Iron Man” clout and now will see if he has enough star power to pack in crowds.  It faces tough competition from Fincher’s highly acclaimed mature thriller “Gone Girl,” which opened strong last weekend and is the kind of film that has legs at the box-office.

The big test is whether the adult audiences the R-rated drama needs to attract will instead defect for another week of “Gone Girl.”

“The Judge,” which cost the moderatebudget of $50 million, was backed by Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow. Among other things, the movie would test Downey Jr.’s power at the box-office, when he appears in drmataic, non-masked films.