If you’ve been listening in on any first reactions from the Toronto International Film Festival, you may have heard a few unpleasant things being said about Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall’s latest passion project, The Judge. Despite the industry’s excitement for the film and overall love for the seasoned actors, critics at the festival have not been kind.
Intrigued by the veteran cast and choosing not to believe what I had read, I attended a pre-screening of the film anyway. Though some highfalutin film critics didn’t find it praiseworthy, the film was a perfectly entertaining combination of comedic and dramatic.
Sure, I can see why some critics didn’t love it. The movie follows the tense relationship between a father (Duvall) and a son (Downey) throughout the father’s trial for a crime he doesn’t remember committing. It’s full of cliches–the jaded lawyer, the cheating wife, the nothing’s-ever-good-enough dad, the old flame who never really fell out of love. It is often predictable and melodramatic. In one scene, Downey questions Duvall on the witness stand when the two begin talking about the origin of their relationship problems. Meanwhile, the rest of the courtroom, including the presiding judge, look on as though this diversion from the relevant is totally commonplace and appropriate–it’s not, people!
All of that being said, The Judge is well worth watching. It may not be re-inventing the family drama, but it still has a lot going for it. If nothing else, it has Duvall and Downey. These two make the movie. Their performances are phenomenal–subtle, emotional, witty. Fans of the actors will find their love reaffirmed with this film.
My roommate/fellow movie-goer Mariana Angulo-Pizarro (COM ’15) claims Downey is her favorite actor: before the movie started, his image came up on screen and joked that he was in the theater, and she literally lost her breath. So I asked her what she thought of The Judge. She responded, “I think it was great seeing Robert Downey Jr. in a role outside of his franchises, and I’m really proud of the job he did in the role because I think his and Duvall’s acting was believable and an emotionally charged relationship that always made me stressed and wanting a resolution.” She, and the rest of the theater, also didn’t hate the 2 seconds of screen time for Downey’s abs.
Besides the all-star cast, the film boasts a crucial quality that elevates it to a level unappreciated by critics thus far. While being deeply emotional (I don’t even know how many times I cried throughout the film), the movie also has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. Downey brought his usual wit to the table, and the subplots involving his brothers and high school girlfriend helped bring a smile to the audience’s face in the midst of the father-son drama.
Nobody wants to sit through two hours of a film that manipulates you into feeling sad for characters you don’t even like. The Judge manages to make these on-the-surface unlikable characters sympathetic. You may cry when they cry, but you also laugh when they laugh, making the movie enjoyable rather than just straight-up depressing.
Yet another thing to love about the film? One scene was shot in our very own Agganis Arena– something to keep an eye out for during the movie. They also did some filming throughout Boston, so you may see some familiar scenery.
The Judge may not be picking up many Oscars this year like it’s creators had hoped, but it still deserves viewers’ attentions. It didn’t create something that’s never been done before, but it did produce 141 minutes of relatable, emotional, entertaining, complicated drama. The performances, the cleverness of the script, and the age-old father-son relationship will have you deeply invested in this film despite the critics’ attempts to keep your emotions at bay. Verdict: give The Judge a chance!
The Judge is out in theaters October 10th. Don’t forget to stop by the SAO Office on the 2nd floor of the GSU to pick up discounted tickets!