Up until this point in his career, director David Dobkin has specialised predominantly in comedy. From the likes of The Wedding Crashers to The Change-Up, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the lighter side of cinema was this filmmaker’s forte, but he claims his passions have always lied with drama, and he’s now realised his artistry on the silver screen with an accomplished, if a little melodramatic foray into the genre with The Judge.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a successful, if relatively unethical lawyer, who will do all he can to leave a court victorious. However he is faced with one of his toughest cases yet when agreeing to represent his own father Joseph (Robert Duvall), an esteemed judge, who is accused of a murder following a drink driving incident. The pair have had a tempestuous relationship, growing more venomous across decades, but now they have been forced to unite in the place they feel most at home: the courtroom.
Though telling an intimate, compelling story of this one relationship between a father and his son, Dobkin, and screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque, lose sight of what truly matters, deviating carelessly away from the crux of the narrative in search of other themes. Dobkin is left with the impossible task of juggling a variety of themes, from the plethora of interrelationships within the family dynamic to the superfluous romantic sub-plot with Vera Farmiga’s Samantha. It detracts from the core aspect and the subtle intimacy that has the ability to illuminate the screen at times. Particularly the case in the unsentimental, uncomfortable and remarkably well acted sequence taking place in a bathroom between the two leads. Sadly any such subtlety is short-lived as the picture eventually becomes comparable to network TV dramas, as the ramped up melodrama that ensues, combined with the cheapened cinematography, would suggest this film may have more of a home on the smaller screen.
Nonetheless powerhouse performances from the two Robert’s ensure this film is worth investing your time in; so while apprehensions in regards to the narrative and visual experience remain, nothing can be taken away from these actors; with Duvall in particular a definite candidate at next year’s Academy Awards.