February 11, 2015

The Judge (2014)

Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and the annoying guy from Law & Order: Criminal Intent



Boot cut jeans or not, Robert Downey Jr. is an attractive guy. He's got that whole "I'm an asshole but I have a soft side" charm that causes women to make poor decisions. Or maybe it's just that he looks that good in a suit. Whatever it is, he does it almost every movie these days. But I loved him back when he actually showed some range in his acting abilities. You know, before Ironman.

Alas, he is still doing it here. It fits with the plot, of course, but makes it a bit less interesting because characters that are that big shot smooth talkers are always quite predictable. Robert Duvall, on the other hand, really is a son-of-a-bitch here. He really removes any softness he might have inside to play a character you can't help but hate. He reminded me so much of Meryl Streep in August: Osage County, right down to the stringy hair and questionable health. In fact, the whole movie is a bit of a mash-up of August: Osage County and Sweet Home Alabama with a criminal twist thrown in.

The movie relies heavily on the dynamic between the Downey and Duvall, which is both its shining quality and also its downfall. While their bickering and unspoken tension holds the audience captive for the majority of the movie, there are a few scenes which seem highly implausible, given their relationship and the setting.

It has been criticized as being too schmaltzy, and it is. But I think anyone who has had a strained relationship with a parent can relate to this movie enough to look past the odd circumstance that brings the two together. What I cannot look past, however, is the casting of the guy from Law & Order: Criminal Intent. He is just the worst. It's unfortunate because I think his character could use a healthy dose of empathy from the audience, but his limited screen time and stilted acting make it close to impossible.

During a book club discussion of All The Light We Cannot See, one woman likened the plot to "when you look in the mirror and you're like, Am I wearing too many accessories?' " This movie is a bit like that. Did we really need the cute, young bartender and the younger brother with disabilities and the high school girlfriend and a tornado, on top of the existing court case and dysfunctional family dynamic? It all just felt like too much: too many plot twists, too many characters, and too much extra unnecessary drama.

Final word: It's the movie equivalent of a hot mess friend that has too much going on, but you still find her endearing.

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