Front Row at the Movies
Robert Downy Jr. Doesn’t Judge "The Judge"
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Robert Downey Jr. has always been in awe of his dad. That the A-List movie star chooses to keep Jr. as part of his name is a sign of it. His namesake was an indie filmmaker, noted for his brilliant 1969 advertising spoof "Putney Swope" (Robert Jr. was 4 at the time).
"He was a great innovator and a heck of a filmmaker," the actor says of his father. Bob Downey is now 78.
In the movie "The Judge" -- currently showing at Tropic Cinema -- the character played by Robert Downey Jr. is a ruthless big-city attorney who returns to his childhood home in Indiana to attend his mother’s funeral but ends up staying when his estranged father, a local judge played by Robert Duvall, gets arrested for vehicular homicide. Despite their contentious relationship, the son decides to take the case, opposing a determined prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton.
It’s a serious family drama.
The film is the first outing of Team Downey, the production company founded by Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan four years ago.
Downey’s on-camera career started at age 5 when his director dad cast him in underground films that were shot in the family living room. His debut was playing a puppy in a film called "Pound." He describes his childhood as a "boheme pressure-fest." But he says it with affection, unlike his character in "The Judge."
While Bob Sr. introduced the boy to acting, he also introduced him to marijuana. "When my dad and I would do drugs together," he says, "it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how." His father recalls, "I’d have a little grass or take a little coke to stay up and write and my son would come down in his little pajamas and sit and he’d say ‘If you can do it, why can't I do it?’ And I’d say ‘That’s a good question, but why would you want to do it?’ And he’d say 'Because I don’t want to go to bed either’."
It was a different time. "What a schmuck I was," his father says today. "If I had it to do all over again, I probably wouldn't be doing it myself, let alone allowing him to do it."
As a result, Robert Jr. was a Santa Monica High School dropout whose own drug problems are legendary.
It made him the perfect choice to play Marvel’s substance-abusing billionaire Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. He has one more film left on his Marvel contract, then he plans to work mainly with Team Downey.
The unforgiving son in "The Judge" is unlike the real Robert Downey Jr. "If my father were less of a pioneer," he says, "he probably would have been more of a father, but I wouldn’t be who I was. I think it’s valiant to make mistakes so your children don’t have to."
But sometimes they do anyway.
Robert Downey Jr. is aware how lucky he is. In Tinseltown, where you only get one chance for success, he’s had two or three. And he doesn’t intend to blow it this time around.
So these days he’s playing a very different role than his father’s son.