“The Judge” is a decent courtroom drama that digs much deeper than just the courtroom. I was leery of the sleazy-defense-lawyer-is-the-son-of-a-well-respected-small-town-judge concept, but it is actually the perfect circumstance to develop these characters on a deeper level. There were a few pieces of the puzzle that seemed out of place, particularly the mentally retarded brother (who was well-acted but likely added an unnecessary 20 minutes to the film); still, the writers do a good job of subtly introducing pieces of information that become important as the film progresses. They also manage to make all of the right things happen in the end of the story without a single moment of predictability. All of the acting is good, particularly Robert Downey Jr. While his character is arrogant and emotionless for much of the film, he interprets it without bringing Tony Stark/Iron Man to the Indiana courtroom. He has great chemistry with Vera Farmiga, who is charming in this role. Billy Bob Thornton also really stood out as the prosecuting lawyer, delivering a relatively small amount of dialogue but leaving a strong and memorable impression. Of course, the highlight of this film is Robert Duvall as he delivers a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. He is one of those actors who is perennially great in every role and deserves nominations for nearly everything that he does. He gets to play two characters at once: the crotchety, close-minded father and the sad, dying husband that just lost his wife. Each is treated with a different set of emotions making his character unpredictable from start to finish; at the same time, I definitely think that this performance is a level lower than the others on this year’s Oscar ballot (particularly J.K. Simmons and Edward Norton). I’m glad that his nomination will bring attention to this well-executed story, but this film wasn’t destined to win any Oscars. If you enjoy courtroom dramas, “The Judge” provides a fresh look into the courtroom with a case that develops on multiple levels. If court films aren’t your thing, the family aspect won’t be enough to hold your attention.
[Pictured: Interesting how Downey Jr. plays this role without resembling Tony Stark]