Robert Downey Jr.’s maverick sparkle can’t save this textbook courtroom drama from falling into cinema’s great repository of utterly forgettable films.
These are trying times for film lovers. While TV is exploding with originality and Netflix reigns supreme, cinema seems to be shrivelling away into an endless line of reboots, unnecessary sequels and safe bet rom coms. Then, very occasionally, you see a film which makes you remember why you were so obsessed with the medium in the first place. A film which leaves you exhilarated, confused, and breathlessly dissecting with your cinema going companion. The Judge is not that film. That film was Gone Girl, which I saw on Sunday, and if the orders had been reversed I might have given up and secured the lock on my film loving heart valve forever.
The Judge is a cookie cutter redemption story of a suave lawyer (Robert Downey Jr.) who is forced to return to his hometown when his mother dies and face his familial ghosts. When his father, a figure of moral superiority in the town, hits a pedestrian with his car, unsubtle moralistic breast beating galore ensues. The cast is a strong one, including Robert Duvall and my personal favourite, Vera Farmiga, but star power can’t shoehorn the characters out of their tired stereotypes. Downey Jr. does an excellent job of being exactly who we expect Downey Jr. to be – sharp tongued, twinkly eyed and alpha male – without bringing anything new to the fore, and scenes without his verve are soporific to say the least.
The simple fact is that perhaps thirty years ago, in a simpler era ruled by Scorsese and Spielberg, The Judge might have had something new to say. In our more clued up and internet addled time however, it is a film that manages the almost impressive feat of not leaving even the slightest memorable impact – not one line, moment in the film or character stays with you beyond the closing credits. The director David Dobkin, best known for farcical fluff Wedding Crashers, does an excellent job arranging the elements on screen, and the film is beautifully choreographed, but ultimately it achieves nothing. We leave unexhilarated and bloated by all the manly drama, wondering whether we would have learned more about society by staying in with Orange is the New Black. Do better Hollywood.