By William Wolf


First-rate acting by first-rate stars highlight “The Judge,” the opening night selection of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Although somewhat overwrought and melodramatic, the performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall make the film, written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque and directed by David Dobkin, compelling to watch and sometimes moving as well.

This is both a father-son drama and a courtroom battle. Downey plays Hank Palmer, a hot-shot lawyer practicing in Chicago. He returns to his hometown in Indiana for the funeral of his mother. His father, Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Duvall, hates Hank, and there is no love lost on the part of Hank either. They have been estranged for years.

The situation becomes complicated as a result of the judge being accused of deliberately running over a former defendant before him with his car. Since Judge Palmer has been a major figure on the bench and has tried to live up to his judicial standards, the accusation is a major event in the life of the judge and the town. Guilty or innocent?

Hank feels compelled to become his father’s defense lawyer, but his ideas on how to do it clash with those of the stubborn, aging and ailing judge. We can expect that father and son will grow closer under fire and that the relationship will loom as important in the film as the trial itself. Duvall is at his very best, and that is saying a lot, as he has long been one of filmdom’s superb actors. Downey Jr. is also in great form here, acerbic and self-centered, yet ultimately compassionate.

Other good performances are contributed by Billy Bob Thornton as the tough local prosecutor with a mission and Vera Farmiga as the sexy woman who is attracted to Hank, as she was in the past.

Put all of these ingredients together, and the result is acting fireworks that keep one’s attention generally riveted. A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Posted September 30, 2014.


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