Tony Stark – a hot-shot immoral defense lawyer – returns to Indiana for his mother’s funeral and meets up with his Days of Thunder consigliere father Col. Kilgore, a cantankerous judge who soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law.
Will his estranged son defend him? Will their relationship be restored? Will they perhaps go fishing the way Tony Stark wants to? This is like August: Osage County meets that Hannah Montana movie where the big city gal rediscovers the joy of homeliness – and spices it up with some illicit ‘urban’ beats. Good Christ but it’s wretched. And Tony Stark is appalling. Everything in the movie services him. An encounter with some barroom thugs, sweet talking his old school girlfriend, the yokel lawyer’s incompetence are all staged to allow Downey a moment of verbal dexterity and a series of twitchy, ironic, winky and eminently punchable reaction shots. (Sidebar: his father has been a judge in these parts for forty years, is a pillar of the community and he doesn’t know a lawyer better than a part-time puker?) He even has a ‘Holy Fool’ brother who walks around with a camera all the time, allowing Downey to be patient and loving with him in contrast to his older sibling and thereby winning more audience points.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I contend that Iron Man did not kill Robert Downey Jr. Nor Sherlock Holmes who is basically Iron Man in a fusty accent and a frock coat. Downey Jr – the actor – died the moment he discovered that he could get away with being likeable. His likeability means there’s no real edge to his smarmy bastard act. Everyone in the film keeps telling him what he’s like – ‘You really are a bastard’, ‘You hate bullies, but you are one’ etc. – because his performance doesn’t do it. Look at Paul Newman in The Verdict. Now there’s a Hollywood star who was unafraid of playing moral corruption like it meant something. And likewise earning the redemption rather than it just being a predictable plot point you can spot from the Warner Bros logo.
Objection! Robert Duvall is excellent.
Sustained. But he’s been an excellent character actor from Boo Radley on. That’s a given. It’s the film that stands accused, letting him down and Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga and Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, and it must also answer for its obnoxiously wrong tone, switching from mawkish sentimentality to folksy comedy in a way I’d call cynical, but cynicism implies some facility. The small town America it shows is the kind Hollywood excels at. Driving into town, Downey Jr spots a boy and his father loading fishing supplies onto their pick up. ‘Nothing changes,’ he hisses venomously, before getting all snarky about someone waving at him. I bet the Wi-Fi reception isn’t up to snuff either.
So I find The Judge guilty. Guilty of wasting talent. Three counts of using a folksy acoustic soundtrack, like an old Jack Daniels advert. Guilty of pretending to be the proper Oscar worthy movie for me that justifies the cash grab of Iron Man. And most guilty – and this is truly unforgivable – of a scene in which the main character recaptures his youth by riding a bicycle no-handed wearing a faded Metallica t-shirt.
Take them away.
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