Low­er­ing the bar con­sid­er­ably

Somebody ought to is­sue a bench war­rant against the mak­ers of this corny, end­less so-called thriller, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET | REVIEWS -

THE JUDGE Di­rected by David Dobkin. Star­ring Robert Downey Jr, Robert Du­vall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shep­ard, Billy Bob Thorn­ton 15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 141 min

Ob­jec­tion! Mere­tri­cious sen­ti­men­tal­ity! Ob­jec­tion! Bad­ger­ing the au­di­ence! Where is this lead­ing, your hon­our?

Where in­deed? Heaven save us from the clown who wants to play Shake­speare or the com­edy di­rec­tor who wants to be taken se­ri­ously. Rarely do such film-mak­ers risk break­ing new ground. More of­ten than not, they knock to­gether the sort of fat, wor­thy fam­ily drama that man­ages the im­pres­sive feat of be­ing too sen­ti­men­tal even for Os­car vot­ers.

A mere glance at the run­ning time will con­firm that David Dobkin, di­rec­tor of Wed­ding Crash­ers and Fred Claus, is seek­ing to ex­tend his range. At 141 min­utes, The Judge is more or less ex­actly as long as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Golly, we re­ally do think our­selves im­por­tant. Do we not?

That ab­surd stretch can be partly ex­plained by the busy clut­ter of un­nec­es­sary sub­plots (about which more in a mo­ment). But the main prob­lem is that The Judge takes about an hour just to reach the start­ing line.

If you know any­thing about the film, you will know that Robert Downey Jr plays a flash, amoral lawyer – “Inno- cent peo­ple can’t af­ford me,” he quips – who is forced to de­fend his own dad (Robert Du­vall), a small-town judge, in a mur­der trial. Be­fore that, we have to watch our pro­tag­o­nist, one Hank Palmer, squab­ble with pneu­matic wife, dis­play af­fec­tion for his daugh­ter, and then crum­ble when news ar­rives of his mother’s death.

Hank has a long way to travel for the fu­neral. True, Chicago, where he prac­tices rob­ber-baron law, is only a few hun­dred miles from ru­ral In­di­ana. But his home­town has some­how man­aged to re­main stranded in 1957.

Janusz Kamin­ski’s ab­surdly overegged cin­e­matog­ra­phy casts a heav­enly light on rus­tic bridges, un­der-pop­u­lated streets and ice-cream par­lours gleam­ing with an­tique chrome.

Here’s Hank’s old love in the sparky form of Vera Farmiga. One brother (Jeremy Strong) suf­fers from a ter­ri­ble con­di­tion known as Crass Movie Men­tal Re­tarda- tion: he films ev­ery­thing with an old Su­per 8 cam­era. Another (Vincent D’Onofrio) was once go­ing to be a ma­jor league base­ball player un­til “some­thing hap­pened” that almost cer­tainly cast Hank in a poor light.

Then there’s Du­vall’s Judge Joe. Well, he knows every­body and, though he loves the law, he be­lieves that a bit of common sense is as use­ful in a court­room as great knowl­edge of statute. He ter­rorises the fam­ily like a dime-store Eu­gene O’Neill an­tag­o­nist and . . .

Hang on. Where’s this mur­der trial we were promised? Even­tu­ally, after end­less pre­am­bles, the Judge is ar­rested for run­ning over a man who, after le­nient treat­ment for an ear­lier of­fense, went on to mur­der a young woman. (In­evitably, this also ends up be­ing in­di­rectly Hank’s fault.)

“De­fend your hon­our,” the aw­ful tagline shouts. Sure enough, Hank finds him­self squar­ing up to Billy Bob Thorn­ton’s suave pros­e­cu­tor. Now, after 60 min­utes, the film can be­gin.

What we have here is a mid­dling episode of LA Law wrapped up in swathes of un­nec­es­sary com­pli­ca­tion and much hammy play­ing to the bal­cony. You wouldn’t say that Downey Jr and Du­vall are bad. (Nor has the earth has shifted on its axis.) But both are of­fer­ing the same stock per­for­mances that have been pay­ing bills since the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Downey does that thing were, to demon­strate ec­cen­tric­ity, he slows . . . way . . . down . . . in a sen­tence and then sud­denly ac­cel­er­ates through the last few syl­la­bles. Du­vall con­tin­ues to squint into imag­i­nary suns like a bet­ter-ed­u­cated Wal­ter Bren­nan.

The re­sult is some­thing worse than mere rub­bish. It is rub­bish with ideas way above its lowly sta­tion. Ob­jec­tion sus­tained!

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