WHAT I LIKED: Thanks to its story about a high-flying defence lawyer called Hank (Robert Downey Jr) returning to his smalltown childhood home to defend his judge father (Robert Duvall) from a murder charge, David Dobkin's 'The Judge,' is a film trying to be three things in one.
On the one hand it's obviously a courtroom drama, with plenty of bombastic debates between Hank who believes in playing the game, and his Dad who appears to value the truth over all else. Strangely though, the one truth he isn't telling is his own, so it equally becomes a bit of a murder mystery that keeps you engaged wanting to find out what happened.
But by far the most successful element of the story is its character drama, as that relationship between Hank and his Dad is tested not just by the two of them, but also by Hank's siblings and the other reminders of his smalltown childhood. He felt that he was never good enough and never got the love he deserves, whilst his Dad feels he succeeded because of how well his son is doing. That tension; between adulthood and childhood, between high-flying and smalltown America, is brought to life brilliantly by the performers, and it's only unlocked because the script allows it to affect Hank so profoundly.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It does have to be said that the script is very grandstanding, but there's nothing wrong with that.
The main issue with the film is that, in order for the murder mystery to be retained, Hank has to avoid asking any questions of his father, and ends up defending him without knowing a damn thing about the truth. Sure that makes the bare-bones plot and the final courtroom scene more engaging, but it arguably undermines the character stuff as it seems that Hank either doesn't care, or that there are conversations going on between the two of them that the audience aren't observing.
VERDICT: In trying to be a murder mystery, 'The Judge,' somewhat undermines the best thing about itself; the soapy tensions between its brilliantly-performed central characters.