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THE JUDGE – Review

October 15, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


Some 15 years ago, Robert Downey Jr. was a mess. In and out of the courts for drug related offences, he even had a 6 month stint in an LA jail for missing a court hearing. Close to 2 decades down the line and those days are entirely faded, being the highest paid actor in Hollywood and boasting his own film production company.

The Judge is its first film, a courthouse drama and a catalogue of misses which sees Downey Jr. on the other side of the bench. Directed by David Dobkin, The Judge shows great outside promise with its heavyweight cast, but fails to entice or dramatically take off.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank, an excessively slick and alarmingly arrogant barrister, lauding over the courtroom and shredding all legal competition with his razor sharp wit and suit trouser creases. However, behind this cliché visage of big city bravado & designer sunglasses lie bloodshot eyes.

He is going through the strenuous process of divorcing his wife, attempting to maintain his relationship with his daughter and no longer having contact with his formerly alcoholic father, played by Robert Duvall.

The sudden death of his mother takes him from classy Chicago to small town Indiana to pay his respects, awkwardly installing himself into the cold bosom of his father’s home, a well respected judge of the town. What was intended to be a flying visit to his home town becomes an extended stay when Duvall is accused of a hit and run, drafting in Hank’s legal credentials to be his defence lawyer.

The Judge is a film dripping with clichés. From the slick, arrogant and affluent lawyer, sticking out like a well dressed thumb in cornbelt and bible bashing America, the film isn’t afraid to stick to textbook platitudes. With a predictable romantic subplot involving a previous girlfriend, Samantha, to boot, played by Vera Farmiga, the film is a familiarly lightweight flick with high hopes as a laudable drama. A disappointing truth.

The film can boast a stellar cast, accentuating the bathos of the film only more. Robert Downey Jr. puts on a fine performance as the unlikeable main character, with Duvall who captures the stoic and moralistic yet frail judge commendably.

Billy Bob Thornton plays the film’s trial’s prosecuting lawyer, a chilling and foreboding character keen on exposing the judge’s guilt and punishing him for it. Despite these weighty performers at the helm, the resulting film has an overwhelming inertia, which strongly detracts from the bite of the drama.


In some ways, the film can be seen as an allegory for Downey’s career. A once troubled schoolboy committing petty crimes and being a nuisance to his parents, spending 6 months in a juvenile penitentiary, who goes on to finish top in his college law class and carving a successful career for himself.

It’s perhaps no surprise that despite his entirely reprehensible character, Downey is the crowning glory of the film, his surrounding cast members either looking a bit peaky in his intimidating light or simply being undersold by the soppy script.

What could have been a scintillating and fiery drama apathetically flops into a mediocre yet watchable piece of trash cinema. It possesses a moderate jurisdiction to entertain, but the jury is out on its ability to entice or thrill its audience.

The Judge is out in UK cinemas on October 17th

George Washbourn