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Review: The Judge


David Dobkin's The Judge takes us back to the sort of big-budget legal thrillers that filled cinemas in the nineties. Like these films, The Judge's narrative depth may not delve below surface-level but it does provide a vehicle for some impressive stars turns and engaging courtroom-thrills.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hotshot lawyer, called back to small-town Indiana for his Mother's funeral. However when back home he finds himself entangled in a legal battle - defending his estranged father (Robert Duvall), the town Judge, when he is accused of murder.

Filled with all the trappings of every legal thriller since The Firm, Dobkin and screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque seem to subscribe to the kitchen sink philosophy. From broken families to malevolent attorneys (a sneering Billy Bob Thornton) and legal double-crossing, The Judge packs its two-hour twenty-minute runtime with every genre trope imaginable and will ultimately come under fire for these clichés. However, this is a John Grisham-esque pot-boiler of the most entertaining kind.

The Judge remains completely engaging throughout thanks to the character that Dobkin and his cast load the film with. The damaged family dynamic is given resonance and authenticity thanks to stellar performances from Downey Jr. and Duvall - the latter showcasing his most vulnerable turn in recent years. From beloved town judge to overbearing, often unpleasant father to an elderly man battling widowhood and illness, Duvall is outstanding.

Given the presence of Downey Jr. as the film's other lead, it will be no surprise that The Judge packs some moderate-humour within this courtroom and family drama. The actor slips into the charming, yet arrogantly smug hotshot lawyer role with what appears to be complete ease - and is subsequently a pleasure to watch. Downey Jr. carries the varying tones of The Judge - convincing in both the legal arena, as the outcast son returning home, and as the snarky, quick-witted outsider.

Further pleasures are found in Janusz Kaminski's striking cinematography, which captures idyllic Southern small-town life, with its gorgeous scenery and hot muggy atmosphere.

For those seeking originality, it is unlikely that it will be found in The Judge. Despite this, it remains a tremendously enjoyable watch thanks to engaging performances from Duvall and Downey Jr., some fun comic nuances, and a full yet, well-pitched narrative that simultaneously tackles courtroom thrills and familial relationships.

★★★★




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