The Judge movie poster
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The Judge
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The Judge Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

From the director of Wedding Crashers comes… a somber father-son drama about a judge who is arrested for murder? Such is the case with The Judge, a movie that puts Robert Duvall on trial but ultimately punishes the audience thanks to poor editing and an unnecessarily long runtime.

The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. as a cocky big city lawyer who returns to his small town home after his mother passes away. There he is forced to come to terms with his estranged father (Duvall), especially when the stubborn old man is accused of intentionally hitting and killing a bicyclist.

In other words, don’t get on the judge’s bad side. Or at least in his blind spot.

The movie, helmed by David Dobkin, proceeds primarily as expected, with the two men repeatedly sparring before finally finding some common ground. It’s pretty predictable and nothing you haven’t seen before, though there’s a reason why movies like this continue to be made: audiences eat up stories like this.

Both Duvall and Downey Jr. deliver fine performances. Downey Jr. caters to his strengths (i.e. playing a fast-talking asshole) while simultaneously softening what he is best known for (playing a fast-talking asshole), and the approach works well. His character brings nothing new to the table (a fast-talking asshole who slowly realizes that life is about more than money and career), but Downey’s performance is solid. Duvall is even better, though his character is too inaccessible to really appreciate his talent.

The supporting cast—Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard and Leighton Meester—are largely wasted in roles that primarily exist to advance the story.

Except when they exist primarily to waste your time. For some reason the filmmakers felt it necessary to add a romantic subplot (featuring a bored Farmiga), even though that story is so underdeveloped, so pointless and so bland all it does is add 10 minutes to the already bloated runtime. Leighton Meester looks great, but her subplot is even more ridiculous (and ultimately abandoned). And why is Dax Shepard even in this movie? Most of his scenes appear to have been left on the cutting room floor.

Despite all these issues, The Judge is not a horrible movie. But at two hours and 20 minutes long, it is at least half an hour longer than it needed to be. Had Dobkin been diligent and cut the extraneous stories and characters that bring nothing to the table and editor Mark Livolsi been more ruthless—each scene seems to linger a little too long, lacking tightness—the movie would have worked. The movie also takes forever to end; Dobkin could have rolled the credits three or four scenes earlier and been all the better for it.

The Judge is not a poorly made movie, but it is a tediously edited one. The third act increasingly drags as it approaches the less-than-satisfying conclusion, and that’s enough to keep it from being anything more than mediocre.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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