Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall are on such mesmerising, Oscar-baiting form in old-school family melodrama cum courtroom cliffhanger The Judge that it’s possible to pardon the film for being so clichéd and contrived.
The younger of the two Bobs is slick Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer, a specialist in getting filthy rich scumbags off the legal hook (‘Innocent people can’t afford me’), and the elder is his bitterly estranged father, Joseph Palmer, an unbendingly upright small-town judge who believes courtrooms are the country’s last cathedrals.
The rift between them, forged during Hank’s wayward adolescence, looks impossible to heal when he returns to his cornbelt, bible-bashing backwater of a hometown for his mother’s funeral. Indeed, he’s already heading back to Chicago afterwards when he learns that his father has been arrested for vehicular homicide and reluctantly turns around.
You can easily guess how things will pan out, and, yes, glib son does get to defend grumpy dad in court, yes, family skeletons tumble out of closets, and, yes, characters achieve reconciliation and redemption, but the stars’ combined screen charisma – plus classy support from Vera Farmiga (Hank’s old flame), Vincent D’Onofrio (his elder brother) and Billy Bob Thornton (his opponent in court) – makes this iteration of the formula immensely watchable.
Certificate 15. Runtime 142 mins. Director David Dobkin.
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