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“The Judge” is a mixed bag. The tense drama parts are effective, and as a courtroom drama it has brilliantly original moments (so agonizingly rare in a genre prone to silliness).
But then it lapses briefly (but repeated) into sad-and-poignant memories-of-childhood crap that’s excruciatingly cliched. The soundtrack for those sections felt like my soul was being raked by the fingernails of Hell’s most sadistic demon. It is complete crap. Overall, the “poignant songs” are just the most godawful execrable vapid nightmare ever to be crowbarred into a pretty good film. Seriously. That part’s just BAD.
Like all courtroom dramas, “The Judge” brutalizes courtroom procedure. For most of the film, less egregiously so than most other courtroom dramas — which are, let’s face it, totally laughable. “The Judge” is pretty laughable at points, but it also uses a few tellingly appropriate aspects of legal procedure appropriately, so… hey, thank heaven for small mercies, yo?
Most importantly, the facts of the case show, believe it or not, what I thought was a GENUINELY NEW IDEA (believe it or not) in courtroom drama.
And then, just when things are going great, in terms of not brutalizing court procedure as badly as other films, the film completely jumps the rails at the end.
But honestly, it’s sorta worth it for the drama… because while it’s fairly ridiculous, it’s also damned effective. I guess I cut it the same kind of that-wouldn’t-happen slack I am willing to cut (though it embarrasses me to say it) “A Few Good Men.”
I have always liked Duvall as an actor (his personal off-screen politics aside), and he is VERY good here. I love Robert Downey Jr beyond all reason, and he is GREAT here. Unexpectedly (to me) brilliant in a small part is Vincent D’Onofrio (who I admire greatly) and Billy Bob Thornton (who usually bugs me, but I thought he was great here). Also, Thomas Jefferson/The White Shadow is in this flick, which adds a whole level of win.
If it could lose the ridiculously cliched slow-piano-music sequences, this might even be a five-star movie.
There’s LOTS of pro-big-city, anti-small-town prejudice, but from the viewpoint of the main character, who’s a hell of a bastard, which is why that character works.
Actually, the asshole quotient in this movie is pretty high, so don’t see it if that kind of thing bugs you. I mean, seriously, we are talking an asshole quotient of about eleventy-seven here. You want “sympathetic characters”? In this case, you have to do the work right along with them, starting at a point where you want to break every bone in their body. I love that in my dramas, though, just like I love the nice-person-pushed-to-the-breaking-point (“Miller’s Crossing,” “In the Bedroom,” “Aliens,” “Terminator” and “Terminator 2″).
I think RDJr. is at his best when playing sons-of-bitches. Duvall both is and is not, because he’s been so great as Tom Hagen and Mac Sledge. But in this case, I think that Oscar nom is well-deserved, and not just because he’s Robert Duvall.
I think it’s fair to say that it’s a total guy movie, though. Lots of boys screaming at each other. A dead woman to start off the action and another dead woman to provide the procession of action (head in the refrigerator, much?) A (mostly offscreen) cheating woman to drive character conflict between men. Lots of dad and brother issues — and, it’s worth mentioning, the brother stuff is where D’Onofrio is his usual low-key genius, almost unnoticeable because he is so unassuming, but completely and totally amazing to watch if you pay attention.
But what can I say? Guy here. Got lotsa guy stuff. That works for me.
Overall, I found this a very good movie that requires the suspension of only about six bazillion and four eye-rolls and maybe thirty guffaws, which is kind of a low quantity for me, especially when it comes to shameless Oscar bait, which this, admittedly, is.