Downey Jr. plays Hank – a hot-shot lawyer who travels back to his hometown after receiving a call that his mother passed away. There, he sees that his estranged father (played by Robert Duvall) has been accused of murder. Hank decides to take matters into his own hands while also reconnecting with his family.
David Dobkin is known mainly for directing comedies such as Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, and The Change Up. Based off of the trailers and cast, The Judge seemed that it would be the type of drama that would hopefully compete during this Awards season. Unfortunately, this film ultimately settles itself asides a typical crowd-pleasing film that while mildly entertaining, feels tonally inconsistent and riddled with a few too many subplots.
Downey and Duvall are definitely the highlight of this film. Downey sets himself aside from his ever-so recognizable “Tony Stark-isms” and even reaches emotional heights that we haven’t seen him reach within his career. And the expectedly marvelous Duvall delivers a wonderful performance with plenty of honest and heartfelt layers to his character. Whenever these two are sharing the screen, it’s quite electric. We also have the supporting likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and Dax Shepherd who all do a fine job in the roles they are given.
Sadly, although The Judge serves as a good showcase for wonderful acting particularly from the two leads, it loses much of its steam with its inconsistent tone. Knowing Dobkin has directed mainly comedies, it shouldn’t come to a surprise that there would be some humorous elements sprinkled within. Unfortunately, although there were definitely some genuinely funny moments, they don’t really seem to mesh well alongside the serious dramatic elements. Also, there are a few subplots within this script that are unnecessary and only add more beef to the runtime rather than to the character/story development.
To pinpoint from that, there’s a subplot involving the relationship between Downey and Vera Farmiga that starts out on an awkwardly comedic note that is genuinely funny but then divulges into an unnecessarily dramatic note that ends up becoming a plot element that is easily expendable.
Which is unfortunate because there are a couple of scenes in The Judge that are truly well-executed. Particularly a scene where Downey and Duvall find themselves in an incredibly uncomfortable, yet relatable situation that manages to blend humor and drama expertly. However I feel that this scene would be much more effective had it been in a more tonally consistent final product.
If anything else, I would recommend seeing The Judge solely for its remarkable performances, but I can’t give it the full recommendation I would like to due to its inconsistent tone and overlong runtime. I’d say wait for it when it comes out on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Overall, The Judge earns a 2.5/5