'The Judge'

David Dobkin's film is contrived and shameless,
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Lawyer Hank (Robert Downey) reconnects with old flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga) when he's in town to defend his dad in a court case.

Embittered high-end attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) returns to his practically perfect small town in Indiana for his mother's funeral. Palmer intends to leave, but that's when his father Joseph (Robert Duvall)—a judge of some 42 years standing—is arrested for a hit-and-run automobile accident. Evidence suggests Joseph had a personal motive for the accident, and he needs the best lawyer he can get.

David Dobkin's film is contrived and shameless, and it derives some of its court-room methods by a close observation of Judge Judy. All this is mitigated by one fine cast—the Oscar-bound Downey, leading them, demonstrating lashing impatience and bursts of intelligence. Downey proves that so much of what we describe as great acting is just a matter of clearing air fouled by the distinct smell of moldy corn.

Vera Farmiga, as the tattooed girl Hank left behind, is a Howard Hawks type who likes to start things; she's too good to be true, but she's a hotshot. What a pleasure they didn't go for the manic pixie as usual. (And in this patriarchy-pampering drama, Farmiga gives the movie some physicality and some common sense; the only girl in the film, if you don't count Hank's studiously cute little girl.)

Thomas Newman's soundtrack is unnoticeable until you notice it—which is a good way to furnish such a film. If some of the driving scenes are shot like car commercials, they found a fairly ravishing hamlet (it's not Indiana, but a town in Massachusetts where Bill Cosby has a house). During a drought you start to crave the look of water.

The Judge

R; 141 min.

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