The Judge, dir. David Dobbin, scr. Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque, st. Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton
Alas from the opening chimes of another Thomas Newman score, David Dobbin's prodigal-son'd fable lays out its intentions from the off and unfolds slowly, thoughtfully, (and thanks to Janusz Kamiński's cinematography - often beautifully), but without any great revelation or much in the way of human interest. Downey Jr. plays another version of his Stark offspring - this time a quick-talking, sharp-dressing Chicago lawyer who journeys back to his Indiana hometown to attend his Mother's funeral. In this little backwater community, Hank's Father Joseph (Duvall) has presided as effective and respected Judge, that is, until a local child killer whom Joseph let off many years previously is killed in a hit and run, and Joseph's Cadillac bears suspicious damage. So obstinate Father stands accused and similarly stubborn Son steps up to defend him, with the pair incessantly butting heads over the case, and predictably, deep-rooted abandonment issues. Dobbin's film is as functional as any well pedigreed movie of its type, and any joy derived from it is as one has for any particularly well-loved, oft-viewed process. All the requisite beats arrive on cue and in orderly fashion, there's nothing here to trouble the serviceable narrative. But it's all a bit too vanilla-ed a cover version. Duvall's portrayal in particular sees the eighty-four year old on fine form, and Farmiga provides solid support as Hank's jilted lover Sam, and of course, it's always a weary pleasure watching Downey do his shtick. But rare subtlety is in evidence from D'Onofrio's soulful and understated role as Glen, the older brother having had to forgo his promising career as a pro-baseball player and remain instead imprisoned as carer to their handicapped third brother. The strata and conflict of small-town judiciary and dormant parental expectation should by rights prove rich and nutritious source material. It's just a shame The Judge is such an open and shut case.