Regular Dude Movie Review: The Judge

Above: Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star in 'The Judge'

There is a lot going on in The Judge, the new small town courtroom family drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

You’ve got the egocentric defense lawyer that left said small town and never looked back returning home following the death of his mother and the strained relationship he has with his father, an ethically superior, letter-of-the-law judge, and his siblings. His marriage is in shambles and his daughter is stuck in the middle, and on top of that, returning home stokes the fire with his high school flame, who seems pretty alright with the fact that he basically just cut out one day without saying goodbye.

Oh, there is also the little matter of his father – the eponymous judge – being on trial for murder too.

Taking any one of those stories and diving into it completely could have produced something interesting. With this cast – Downey Jr. and Duvall are joined by Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecutor, Vera Formiga as the high school sweetheart who happily never left town and Vince D’Onofrio as his older brother – The Judge could have been an exploration of a family that has been broken apart being put back together, a father and son hashing out their differences in the face of grave circumstances or a Nicholas Sparks novel set in a fictitious Indiana town.

Instead, it tries to be all of these things at once and suffers because of it.

There are smart moments, a handful of laughs and cute interactions, plus several instances designed to tug at your heartstrings, but it feels unrealistic. Except for the tension between father and son, the way everyone interacts with the returning Downey Jr. would never happen the way it does. You don’t just return to your little town on the side of the river to open arms and acceptance, not when you’ve been absent for 20 years and are kind of a dick who feels he’s superior to everyone.

But none of the individual stories that could have been explored in greater depth in this film work in 2014 Hollywood, at least not with these stars and the kind of promotion and release The Judge has received.

People don’t want depth and substance in a dramatic film like this – they want a little bit of tension that comes to a warm and fuzzy resolution with an “alls well that ends well” love story on the side if possible, even if the film is less than it could have been because of it.

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