Directed by David Dobkin
The Judge hears a case for Oscar bait but dismisses it for lack of evidence.
It's a long, slow slog through almost every dysfunctional family cliche in the hallowed reels of Hollywood history.
In this case, the family is a hot-shot, big-city lawyer named Hank (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man); a brother, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio, TV's Law & Order: Criminal Intent), whose promising baseball career was cut short by a car accident during high school; another brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong, Parkland), an idiot savant who's slightly less endearing than Rain Man; and their father, Joseph (Robert Duvall, Jack Reacher), a small town Indiana judge with a strict moral code.
The family comes together for the matriarch's funeral and all sorts of emotional fireworks explode across the screen, although the bulk of them are duds. Most of the story revolves around the titular judge, who still sees Hank as nothing more than a reckless child and who still bemoans Glen's lost shot at glory. Dale is a mystery character; he's there, but his condition is weirdly inconsequential to the story and everyone around him, including his own father.
As for Hank, he's got his own baggage. His marriage is breaking up, his father is "dead" to him, and a high school sweetheart, Samantha (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air), attempts to rekindle their romantic ways when he returns home.
On Golden Bench
Son and father against all odds
Photo: Warner Bros.
In the thick of all that family drama, Papa Joe is embroiled in a case of vehicular homicide. Did he intentionally mow down the recently-released convict, or was it an alcohol-induced accident? Or was it the meds?
Well, that sets the stage for Hank to try to save the day as he goes toe to toe with Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton, Friday Night Lights), a tough-as-nails lawyer who's irked by the likes of Hank, who describes himself as "not encumbered by the law."
It's family bonding at its finest, allegedly. All those threads are woven together in a heavy, suffocating sweater of artificial heart tugging. If only somebody was worth caring about, the movie's 141-minute run time would seem less burdensome.
Instead, the family drama merely serves as a reminder that virtually all families are an emotional wreck in some shape or form and that courtroom dramas can still offer viewers some neat lighting effects.
Cloak & Stagger
Somebody should throw the book at the writers, who'll simply be identified herein, forthwith and what-not as the firm of Dobkin, Schenck & Dubuque. In the legal rat race, their efforts would be spun as great talent, because it certainly takes a remarkable amount of something to spoil the appeal of the terrific cast that's been assembled here.
As individuals, each character has some degree of merit, but their collected -- and overdone -- stories don't add up to the calculated and intended result.
Cue the acoustic pop music and the Super 8 film footage for some nauseating moments of nostalgia. Better yet, cease and desist.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.