To be perfectly honest, there was nothing about The Judge that drew me in. Nothing. There's always one major fall release that does this to me, and this father-son drama was it. When I showed up at my local AMC, the only thing starting was the Robert Downey Jr./Robert Duvall drama, and I was too stubborn to wait for another movie to start or go home.
Downey plays a cocky attorney named Hank who returns to his small hometown when his mother dies. He reconnects with his two brothers (Vincent D'Onofrio and Jeremy Strong), but he clashes with his headstrong father, played by Duvall. Instead of becoming an intimate family drama, The Judge turns into a mixture of family dysfunction (a fight seriously happens outside during a huge thunderstorm) and courtroom melodrama when Duvall's respected judge is accused of running down a former felon that he convicted 20 years ago. Oh, and Duvall has cancer. One pile on another pile on another pile.
Just when I thought I wouldn't like anything The Judge has to offer, I am reminded how great of an actor Downey Jr. really is. Sure, he's playing a smart-mouthed, cocky attorney, and he's definitely corned the market on the good-looking smarmy guy thing. I was so happy to see him out of that damn Iron Man suit. He might quarrel with his father nonstop, but it felt rather refreshing to see him not surrounded by blinding CGI the entire time.
The childhood love story between Downey and Vera Farmiga is a bit stunted, but Farmiga should be in everything. The running time on this drama is sort of killer (it clocks in just under 2 and a half hours), and it kind of feels like something could have been left out. The tension between this father and son doesn't really settle until Hank is defending his father, but the reasoning as to why these two keep fighting isn't really clear. Hank's rambunctious younger days don't seem like enough of a reason for these two to continually bite each other's heads off.
While it's not something I necessarily wanted to check out, it had a homegrown charm. Can you really do better than Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. duking it out? The Judge reminds us that Downey Jr. is one of his generation's best actors even if the material doesn't live up to his talents.