'The Judge': What the Critics Are Saying
Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star in David Dobkin's father-and-son legal drama
The Judge, out Friday, casts Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. star in a father-and-son drama that vies for a familial reconciliation during a murder trial.
The film marks Downey's first non-comedy or superhero outing since The Soloist in 2009, as well as director David Dobkin's first dive into a serious film, after making his name in comedy with the likes of Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and The Change-Up.
The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures title — and the first title from Team Downey, the production company Robert runs with his wife, Susan — is predicted to open in a crowded box office to mid- to high teens.
Read what top critics are saying about The Judge:
The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy says the film "is well served by intense performances from stars Downey Jr. and Duvall, but is undercut by obvious note-hitting in the writing and a deliberate pace that drags things out about 20 minutes past their due date." Dobkin "conscientiously battens down every hatch to the point where spontaneity has been trumped by an over-calculated fastidiousness." And "even more than usual, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski lays on the backlight flare very thickly, often distractingly so. Thomas Newman's score is emotionally obvious and indulges the film's pokey pace. Meanwhile, posh Massachusetts locations stand in unconvincingly for the Indiana farmland setting."
Still, "there are several father-son scenes of considerable intensity that ask both Downey and Duvall to go places they have seldom gone onscreen, physically and emotionally. Even when the circumstances seem contrived, the actors mine moments of truth that resonate with raw emotion. Through rough battles with disease and the law, the two men achieve a closeness that stubbornness and normal times did not foster."
New York Observer's Rex Reed notes it as "a perfect movie—provocatively written, intensely mounted, painstakingly photographed, passionately acted and profoundly thoughtful. Equal parts courtroom drama, legal thriller and family saga, it’s also a synchronized duet for two terrific actors at the top of their craft that left me stunned." With "Duvall’s greatest performance since he won the Oscar for Tender Mercies, and Downey’s greatest performance ever," the film's "screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque is intelligent, touching and carefully calibrated, eschewing any trace of sentimentality, yet the film envelops your own sense of humanity as father and son draw closer and discover things about each other they never suspected."
The New York Times' A. O. Scott calls it a "long, baggy, meandering film" with "enough dramatic incident for three movies, none of them terribly original." Then, the feature becomes "a crime story, and a supershouty, macho-weepy, buried-family-secrets melodrama." As all family movies are stuffed with secrets that eventually get out, "they add up to a sprawl of narrative that is as unconvincing as the suspiciously sprawl-free, nostalgia-tinged town where it all takes place."
Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan says the two Roberts' "powerful symbiotic acting is the key reason to see this film. Duvall and Downey create a memorable mutual antipathy with echoes that go back as far as Raymond Massey squaring off against James Dean in East of Eden. However, ... this vivid and volatile core is often undercut by a weakness for middle-of-the-road sentiment and a desire to be all things to all people." Possibly because Dobkin's "crowd-pleasing tendencies honed over a decade of Hollywood work can be hard habits to break."
The Guardian's Catherine Shoard says, despite the work of the two leads, it is "a total tonal gumbo, which sometimes treats its topics with kid gloves, at others chucks them in the air and juggles. ... After two hours of switchblade swerves between sweet and sour, larks and drama, you start feeling queasy. ... Sadly there’s no denying the charge: first-degree cheese, with intent."
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