An Oscar-nominated Duvall, an on-form Downey Jr and yet this still got a hung jury?
The Judge Film Review
The comeback king picked a rather different movie to make in-between donning Iron Man's suit and paired up with acting legend Duvall for this family drama that nobody was expecting from him.When a hot-shot big city attorney finds out that his mother’s just died, he travels back to his small home town – complete with its small-town prejudices – only to face the father who he hasn’t spoken to in decades. A judge, who has spent almost half a century presiding over the town, and who finally needs his estranged son’s help when he finds himself brought up on murder charges. Narratively quite familiar in terms of these fairly standard, going-back-to-small-home-town-to-confront-old-demons tales, The Judge no doubt estranged its own fair proportion of audience members by juxtaposing those clichés and hallmarks with some far more biting drama and character inspection – with Duvall on absolutely top form in a tough, unpleasant, but still heart-breaking performance; whilst Downey Jr. reveals some welcome hints of emotional depth beneath all of his trademark bravado.Beyond these two headlining efforts, however, the supporting cast are famous but largely under-utilised. That’s OK though because the crux of the story is the father-son relationship, and when that’s what you want them to spend the time on. Sure, it would have been nice to get more from the usually razor-sharp Billy Bob Thornton, or Vincent D’Onofrio, but by the same token that would almost detract from the core elements that The Judge explores. For some, the undeniable narrative familiarity is going to leave this pre-judged as an unexceptional effort even before its had its day in court, but if you give it a fair trial, you might find it an at-times thoughtful, at-times potent exploration of the harder side of family relationships; the bitter resentment, the decades-long grudges, and the ties that bind in spite of those feelings.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Judge hits UK Region Free Blu-ray complete with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation which does its best with the material, and largely offers up impressive work. The film, by intention, is steeped in shadows, with tweaked contrast that runs quite hot and gives it quite a striking look.
Whilst not highly stylised, it is highly processed, leaving hints of a number of digital anomalies which would, in any other presentation, make for fatal flaws.
There’s excellent detail almost throughout, but still a smidge of softness in a couple of shots (some scenes even look like they’ve been dipped in old school soft focus); there’s resounding shadow detail which allows even the darkest sequences to shine through – and there are shots here that would make Eastwood proud – but there are other areas where something half-approaching crush appears to come into play.
For every reference element, there’s the slightest reservation to hold you back from thinking this is really impressive work – and almost all of it is as a result of the stylistic design of the piece (although there’s one really odd scene where Downey Jr. and Billy Bob face off in a police station where the light through the blinds plays murder with the former’s head). With all that in mind, though, if you flip it around and look at the transfer from the viewpoint of the unforgiving material that it is attempting to depict, you actually have to wonder whether it could look any better.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a warm, atmospheric offering which brings the small town locations to bustling big life, with chirping birds and buzzing insects. Bar-rooms thrum, airports heave, and court-rooms explode, with the score, all the while, tinkering around in the background in a suitably non-invasive, but highly effective, fashion.
It’s not going to knock any walls down, but disc boasts a precise and potent audio track which, without the bombast, instead focuses on the atmosphere.
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, delivered with precision from across the fronts and centre channels, and offered up priority over the rest of the elements. Effects are always designed to crafted a realistic ambience, with old projectors shuttering along, and gavel-cracks echoing; and whilst there’s nothing to whizz around your living room, the surrounds get a halfway decent workout nonetheless – particularly when the tornado warnings go off. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s a well-crafted effort that remains, in its own way, demo worthy.
Blu-ray ExtrasThe selection of extras, matching up to the identical US counterpart, is headlined by an Audio Commentary from director David Dobkin; a 22 minute Making-of Featurette, Inside the Judge, which dishes out a little background information and some nice cast and crew snippets; and Getting Deep with Dax Shepar, which is an interview with Downey Jr, D’Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton. 18 minutes of Deleted Scenes could have been better served up in chronological order, although there are a couple of interesting extra touches, and the disc is rounded off by some trailers.
The Judge Blu-ray VerdictWorth watching just to see the legend that is Robert Duvall, at 84, still commanding the screen – and committing to his characters – and to see some great tension and chemistry between him and Downey Jr, playing his now-trademark brash self, only with a slightly more damaged interior this time around, you may discover that The Judge has more to offer than just these two components, but they’re certainly more than enough.
Estranged family struggles drive two disparate acting icons to ignite the screen.
This Region Free UK Blu-ray release sports decent video – notwithstanding the reservations about the material – and impressive audio, as well as a solid selection of extra features. Fans will certainly want to pick it up, whilst those intrigued shouldn’t be put off by some of the more negative coverage; watch it and make up your own mind.
You can buy The Judge on Blu-ray here
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