On the surface, The Judge seemed like an old school can’t-lose star vehicle. In the 70s/80s, it would have been Newman, Pacino, Hoffman or Redford in the main role and probably would have done quite well critically and commercially at the the time. Fast forward a few decades later, and we have Robert Downey Jr in his current “rich prick” persona, strolling through each scene with the same kind of mannerisms and suave condescending, know-it-all attitude that has been his acting method since his 2008 resurrection.
The Judge isn’t a bad movie, and RDJ isn’t bad in it. and it isn’t like I don’t like him … but the movie is a dusty old relic of a thing, a genre that seems consigned to the kind of TV movie that plays on Lifetime or something like that, minus the odd swearword tossed in here or there, and the pricey cast of actors too talented for the lazy script.
I mostly focus my ire on Downey here, but also the Hollywood convention that all handsome leading men over a certain age appear totally irresistible to 20 somethings. I mean, maybe they are, but it’s just such a cliche that it sets my eyes rolling. But Downey … yeah, as I said, I like the guy, but I’ve liked the guy for a long time now, since before Chaplin. He was a good actor once, but now he’s ROBERT DOWNEY JR. He’s reached that level of media success (like Stephen King) where directors, writers, editors no longer matter. He brings money in by virtue of his presence, and the studios know he can walk if he feels like it.
There are some good moments in this yawning plot, but they seem rushed and don’t get the attention the threadbare story requires of them. A scene where Downey and Duvall are in the shower together (yeah, sounds creepy, but isn’t – I just wrote it that way) is a pivotal character moment, but it just kind of ends up being sweet when the scene is crying out for it to be much, much more.
I went into this thinking I wouldn’t love it or hate it, and I came out of it doing just that. It’s a fair-to-middling, kinda-sorta redemption tale that doesn’t really end up saying much of anything about the people or their stories, or small town America, but thanks to Janusz Kaminsky, it at least looks terrific.
© Andrew Hope 2015