An Oscar-nominated Duvall, an on-form Downey Jr and yet this still got a hung jury?
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 has 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 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.
Estranged family struggles drive two disparate acting icons to ignite the screen.
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.
Worth 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.
You can buy The Judge on Blu-ray here
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