The Judge (2014)     ★★★½

In much the same way that A Few Good Men is Top Gun in a courtroom, The Judge is Iron Man in a courtroom. I’m not sure what the point is of Robert Downey Jr. branching out into more dramatic roles if he’s just going to continue to play the same sarcastic smart ass each time. But luckily for him, at least for now, he’s still entertaining.

The Judge is an overlong, bloated mess of a film with its heart in the right place, that features some incredible acting and a handful of home run scenes between the aforementioned Tony Stark and Robert Duvall. For those reasons alone I recommend it, but know that it’s one of those courtroom dramas that plays fast and loose with the realities of the judicial system in the name of entertainment, stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point at times, and at 140 minutes, feels like an entire season of a television show edited together into a single feature. We get some courtroom drama, and then some family drama, and then some comic relief, and this cycle repeats itself ad infinitum, as characters get forgotten for long stretches and then brought back as filler to kill time until the next dramatic moment. Needless to say director David Dobkin’s history directing comedies is of no benefit to him with The Judge as using these cyclical rhythms in a drama can appear rather forced and manipulative. Additionally the fact that the female characters are all defined as love interests to Downey Jr., betrays their inclusion as mere tokens, and is mildly offensive.

That being said, Vera Farmiga and Leighton Meester have never looked better. When you add to that an always welcome Billy Bob Thornton, a hilarious Dax Shepard, an unrecognizable Balthazar Getty, appearances by Denis O’Hare and the brilliant Grace Zabriskie, and a substantial role for Vincent D’Onofrio, one of the most underrated and magnificent actors working today, it becomes impossible for me to hate this film. Hell, I’d even watch it again. It goes down easy and understands that it will never win an Oscar, and as a fan of the courtroom drama, I can live with that.

The Verdict: Rave

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