Monday, October 27, 2014

The Judge (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Judge

Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) who is known for screwball comedy, tries his hand at more mature material with "The Judge," a hybrid film, mixing John Grisham with family dysfunction.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr.) is a snide and acidly sarcastic lawyer who clearly doesn't care for many people except his daughter. He is self-important and verbally abusive. His marriage is well on its way to termination.

When his mom dies, Hank returns home to Indiana, grimacing and rolling his eyes.

He clearly doesn't want to face his Calvinist and tight-laced father (Robert Duvall) a respected local judge. After a vitriolic argument, Hank leaves prematurely. Just when he is on board bound for home, he gets an anxious call from his older brother, Glenn (Vincent D'onofrio). His father is accused of a hit and run and the victim, who is struck dead, is someone that he once sentenced to prison.

The acting of Robert Downey Jr. is well in evidence here, as is Duvall as the earthy, no nonsense father. In some ways this story recalls the classic Clint Eastwood film, "Gran Torino" with Duvall's role as the all American aging man standing and battling against a slippery and slipping world. And as Hank, the defiant and self assured son, vainly seeks his father's love while his brother receives all of the attention, the story has an element of "East of Eden".

These are deft touches and both Duvall and Downey have a compelling and vibrant pulse. While possessing a satisfying dramatic tension between them, the plot gets a little bogged down in mawkish convention. Hank is a caregiver to his dad, while his daughter (Emma Tremblay) is cute as can be, but syrupy sweet, and he has an old girlfriend (Vera Famiglia) who was jilted by him.

A bit mainstream too, is a preening and devilish prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton. As Mr. Dickham, Thornton has a collapsible water canister that resembles a barrel from a rifle. The main attractions here are the lively exchanges between Duvall as the hard bitten dad and Downey as the verbally-encircling son. The melodrama is well in force with the old man heading out into a tornado, and there is a passive aggressive brother and another brother (Jeremy Strong)  bullied for his lethargy and his obsession with cameras.

While no actor moves out of his or her typecast zone, and every seasoned player acts as you might expect from other roles,  "The Judge" still has some charged repartee along with a turn of events that manages a shoulder punch of surprise, in spite of its handwringing motion.

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