Judge this

Robert Downey Jr. is Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge. That is why they cast him though. Audiences pay for those sparkling, charismatic monologues whether they come from Tony Stark or The Judge’s ferocious lawyer Hank Palmer. His performances are fun and even uplifting. That fits The Judge‘s modus operandi.

Robert Duvall is the actual draw however, even if his marquee name has avoided tabloid stardom. He’s crotchety, bull headed, frustrating; he’s also dad to Downey in this piece.

The Judge steps off from a funeral. Loss and regret rush into the picture until a murder charge against Duvall steps in to right family things – if such a thing makes sense. Often, The Judge is hostile and brutal, but smart. Too smart even.

Viewers get it all from The Judge – histories, back stories, failed (and successful) romances; it’s complete enough to be a novel and feels like one too. For such a small town (Carlinville, Indiana) it would seem like a significant portion of the population is in on this one whether current or past.

So yes, the film is bloated at nearly 150 minutes. The Judge is also cliché, melodramatic, and hopelessly sentimental. Key events are weary and overplayed, the type which could only happen on screens in order to push those who are prone to cry over sappiness.

Imperfect and flabby as it may be, this original story is enticing.

If anything, no one will consider The Judge incomplete. In terms of courtroom and family drama, few are more thorough.

And yet, The Judge is functional. Imperfect and flabby as it may be, this original story is enticing. Downey and Duvall peck away at each other and conquer sequences of desperately obvious theater. One particular father/son blow-up happens during a vicious, window-shattering summer thunderstorm as if such a scene would need metaphorical background escalation.

Movies are pieces. They’re editing, filming, sound, directing; all those matter, to most anyway. Despite being over-photographed by reliable Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski, The Judge is all casting, even down into the middling character ranks. Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thorton, Dax Shepard. Each is given time and space to work, to improve The Judge as it sifts through a playbook of the dramatic.

Between all of the shouting and in-fighting sits a film about law, drawing itself to a close implausibly on another stare down between Duvall and Downey. Things are said. There are tears. Maybe there should have been a slow clap too.

One has to wonder how any of this actually worked. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Dour color @ 1:57:12

Given the choice in cinematographer, The Judge looks like a Spielberg film anywhere from 1996 to the present. Backlighting is everywhere. Shadows are fiercely controlled. Haze is frequent. Plus, it is alluringly captured on film. Grain is heavy as if done on 16mm.

It would be brilliant if it didn’t feel so out of place against this material. Some of the digital color grading doesn’t help, slapping teal on an inordinate amount of shots and calling it there. Either way, Warner’s encode is appreciable. That is rare in and of itself anymore. Bitrates break the 30 mark and compression spits up a grain structure with hardly any fault. Behind it is exquisite detail when Kaminski isn’t using hefty depth of focus. Exteriors and aerials are gorgeously rendered and defined. Close-ups are often perfect and resolution keeps fidelity in mid-range shots.

Gorgeous black levels render perfect shadows to capture the images as intended. So many rely on the absence of light. In the Kaminski tradition, any exterior light will bloom in through windows with thick contrast. Contrast and blacks are in constant flux although vivid in execution.

The Judge is a film of few colors. The palette is strong albeit limited. When not soaked in teal, primaries pounce to capture small town America. Flesh tones can be great, with surrounding earth-en hues satisfying in their use. For fans of more exquisite cinematography (or just Kaminski), The Judge has something to offer and Warner’s encode is refreshingly competent. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

The sonic highlight for The Judge is a waterfall, but not directly. Rather, it exists as a background to a small diner. During an otherwise quiet conversation, a light rumble in the LFE is persistent. You know the falls are there even if they’re out of view.

Obviously, such a dialog thick drama has limited opportunity, thriving on bar or outdoor ambiance. Audio work is soft and only notable when necessary. When flaring up, in particular during a storm, the DTS-HD mastering kicks in full. Winds and rustling leaves find themselves strewn about the soundfield providing a powerful sense of place. Dialog mixes in without fault. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

David Dobkin handles commentating duties over the main feature and optionally over 18-minutes of deleted scenes. He comes across a touch dry, but clearly appreciates his actors. Inside the Judge is a different type of making of, bringing key cast/crew together to discuss the feature candidly in a roundtable. Their chat becomes superb and not just filler. Getting Deeper with Dax Shepard proves fun, letting Downey, Thorton, and D’Onofrio let loose a bit. Thorton is especially hilarious. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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