Movie Review: THE JUDGE (2014) – Robert Downey Jr Returns To His Pre-MCU Glory
Between donning a suit of metal and prancing around in comic book movies these days, Robert Downey Jr. found time to make an emotionally moving film that allowed him to flex his acting chops beyond the franchise films he’s been doing recently. ‘The Judge‘, despite its name is less of a court room drama, and more of a family drama that brings back the Downey Jr. that has been known to be a powerhouse performer. Check out my Spoiler-free Movie Review of ‘The Judge’, and get re acquainted to Robert Downey Jr. pre Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While attending the funeral of his mother, successful city lawyer Hank (Robert Downey Jr.) reunites with his estranged small town family. The bitter relationship he has with his father, Joseph, (Robert Duvall) is apparent from the first time they are on screen together. This relationship is what the story of the movie is based on, and things are revealed but smoothly. Things take a darker turn when Joseph, an esteemed judge in his own right, is arrested and accused of murder. The black sheep son then has to stay behind in a town he hates, with people he is frustrated with and a family he wants nothing to do with, to try to save his elderly father from going to jail, and do so against Joseph’s wishes on top of it all.
‘The Judge‘ is a slow moving film, the only respite from which comes through Downey Jr.’s patented charm and the help of some amazing supporting characters and interesting sub plots that add to the small town community vibe that serves as the story’s setting. Hank’s violent resistance to his old life is tragically sweet, as is Joseph’s outburts to his son’s inexplicable desire to come to his father’s aid. Both Duvall and Downey Jr. are amazing together and play off each other brilliantly.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Glen, Hank’s older brother, who has his own reasons to hate his younger brother, but doesn’t. D’Onofrio is a chameleon as a family man with broken dreams, which makes his turn as Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s ‘Daredevil‘ just a year after ‘The Judge’ that much more shocking. Vera Farmiga is wonderful as the girl that got away, and is radiant in a ‘could give a crap’ attitude, and is who keeps Hank honest. The family drama is palpable and heartbreaking, and always explodes on screen after some suitable build up.
Director by David Dobkin, (‘Wedding Crashers‘) who has mostly done comedies until now, infuses subtle and unexpected humour in an otherwise emotionally charged story. Working from a script written by Nick Schenk (‘Gran Torino‘) and Bill Dubuque, Dobkin is able to keep things moving at a relatively easy going pace with the side relationships and departures from the narrative to flesh out the characters and provide more depth.
Robert Downey Jr. shines in a role that allows him to be more than the snarky wiseass that he’s always been known as, both on and off screen. A performance that reminds us who he was as an actor before his 2nd coming in Hollywood as comics’ Tony Stark, Downey Jr. is able to breathe life into an otherwise damaged character, and the gradual surfacing of all those emotions is a pleasure to experience.
‘The Judge‘ is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea due to its slow pace, and story that builds more through characters than plot points, it is a poignant story about father-son relationships and how family dynamics are affected by drifting apart over time. For anyone interested in seeing Robert Downey Jr. in something other than his usually sarcastically light hearted movies, ‘The Judge‘ is a must watch!
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What is your favourite non-superhero Robert Downey Jr. role?