Director: David Dobkin
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
Spoilers Within: Yes
Film 20 – #96 in ‘The Hard Drive Randomiser’
While there are tens of thousands of films that pull off their melodramatic concepts with tact and a modicum of heart, The Judge is absolutely not one of them. Riddled with banalities, David Dobkin and Nick Schenk’s ponderous, clichéd script turns a simple story – judge father and lawyer son (Robert’s Duvall and Downey Jr.) find themselves defendant and attorney in the same case – into a blokey familial courtroom drama that’s so repetitious and entirely sensationalist in its hokiness that it’s a surprise that no one stopped this in the screenwriting stage.
Instead of a conventional review, I’ve compiled a play-along checklist of mawkish, stock-template storytelling beats that Dobkin, Schenk and Bill Dubuque filled their screenplay with. This is essentially a play-by-play of the plot, so if you must disregard the former paragraph’s negativity and decide to watch it, then avoid this for the meantime as it’s spoilerific.
☐ Opens with a maternal figure dying off screen, no characterisation
☐ Death brings estranged father and son back into each other’s lives
☐ Main character faces divorce and custody battle for young daughter
☐ Father’s hostility towards son drives son to become a hard-working professional
☐ Main character’s brothers both in close contact with father, hold no ill will to their patriarch
☐ One brother is an ex-athlete forced into retirement after an accident of which isn’t yet revealed to the audience.
☐ The other is mentally disabled and fixated on filming family on his Super-8
☐ Father is a no-nonsense, professional aka The Judge and son is a fast-talking, no-nonsense professional aka The Lawyer
☐ Explosive argument post mother’s funeral forces son to threaten leaving the town for good
☐ The brothers head to a bar after the wake, causing trouble with the locals. Lawyer son’s fast-talking impresses 20-year-old barmaid who he soon makes out with
☐ Argument causes accident, which causes son to return, breaking his vow of ‘never returning’ made in the minutes before
☐ Father then accused of fatal hit-and-run of a convict that he sent away years prior
☐ Businesslike professional aka The Prosecutor forces businesslike professional lawyer
son to defend businesslike professional father because apparently that’s allowed in small towns
☐ Father reveals he has been keeping terminal cancer a secret from his family and his career
☐ Secrets about their estrangement still drip-fed, animosity still rife
☐ Hostility dates back to drink driving accident that robbed brother of a baseball career and sent lawyer son to a youth detention centre
☐ Son reconnects with old flame who hasn’t ever left town
☐ Love interest still loves him despite him abandoning her
☐ Love interest still loves him despite him fathering her child and abandoning her too
☐ Love interest still loves him despite him being a total arsehole
☐ Lawyer and love interest’s daughter is actually barmaid that lawyer made out with
☐ Lawyer made out with his own 20-year-old daughter
☐ Lawyer barely reacts to the discovery that he made out with his own 20-year-old daughter
☐ Father sabotages reasonable doubt brought about by chemotherapy, says that he probably, definitely, maybe might have done the crime for which he is accused
☐ Father convicted of involuntary manslaughter on account of diminished capability for murder. Sentenced to four years but acquitted because obviously
☐ Terminal cancer rears its head again in a convenient, timely fashion
☐ Father and son finally reconnect – during fishing no less – and admit their love for each other trumps negative history.
☐ Decades of bad blood is cleared seconds before father succumbs to his illness
☐ Son returns to his father’s courtroom and spins the busted office chair that his father presided over. It stops, pointing at him because he’s a no-nonsense professional aka The Lawyer aka The Judge
☐ At some point, there’s a really big CGI storm for some reason that gets everyone riled up so much that they run out of their storm shelters and stand around in it, shouting
If you’ve made it to the end with a completed checklist, then congratulations, you too have wasted 2 hours and 21 minutes on the most nauseatingly feeble courtroom drama I’ve possibly ever seen. Were it not for the A-list cast and a (sometimes) careful attempt at capturing the beauty of theMassachusettsan/Pennsylvanian scenery (both acting as stand-ins for its Indiana locale), The Judge would have camouflaged itself into the annals of the Hallmark Channel’s syrupy and clumsily amateurish inspirational TV movies. Instead, it’s a multi-million dollar drama that’s as long as it is obnoxious.