Robert Downey Jr. tries his hand at a more serious, low-key drama in The Judge, a film in which the actor plays a lawyer having to go back to the town he grew up in following the death of his mother only to find himself defending his father (Robert Duvall) in a court battle.
Based on a true story, The Judge is both about a cocky dude coming to terms with his past and himself and about a father fighting for his honour despite it potentially costing him his freedom. As a character study of both characters, the film does a great job making us feel for both even with their obvious shortcomings and keeping us interested in this court case which could easily go either way. We also learn more about the truth bit by bit so you're kept suspicious throughout. The performances are very strong with Downey Jr. showing a wider range of emotion recent comic-book movies have allowed him to portray and Duvall giving a courageous, quietly affecting, layered performance which earned him an Oscar nomination. It's definitely his best in a while and it should, at least, cancel out his dubious effort in The 6th Day back in 2000. Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton also co-star.
While the court case is what drives the plot forward, a lot of time is taken to develop the relationships between the characters and, though films like A Good Year have attempted something similar, The Judge wisely steers clear of the more whimsical stuff. It is, however, much too long for the story it's telling which doesn't exactly feel like it needs to be two hours and a half long but, that said, it remains surprisingly watchable considering. The film is funny in parts, surprisingly harsh in other parts but it mostly goes for the heartstrings and it definitely pulls those in the right places. Had the film been shot and the story been told in a more unique way, The Judge would have stood out as a must-watch but, as it stands, everything from Thomas Newman's score to the cinematography is pretty standard. If you go back and watch something like Moonlight Mile or even Garden State, it's that same kind of post-funeral movie with a little courtroom drama thrown in.
The Judge is a solid movie with strong performances and for that alone it's worth checking out. It may not be the most stand-out movie you'll ever see and whether you'll remember it a year from now is debatable but you'll enjoy it while it lasts.