The Judge David Dobkin

The Judge David Dobkin
8
A lot has been said about this legal drama being a tour-de-force of acting from Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr., who portray a dysfunctional father and son. Their performances are stunning, jousting in scenes that will be studied for years to come. Duvall and Downey articulate a taut story by writers Dobkin, Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque and stand out in a film sometimes plagued by melodrama.
 
Downey plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot, smart-ass lawyer from Chicago who returns home to small-town Indiana to attend his mother's funeral. Instantly, Hank resumes his rocky relationship with his hard-hearted local judge father (Duvall), his older brother (the reliably good Vincent D'Onofrio) and mentally handicapped younger brother (surprising newcomer Jeremy Strong).  When the judge is arrested for running down a scumbag who killed a teenage girl years ago, Downey defends his crusty old man at the murder trial.
 
The Judge would have been a stronger movie if it stuck closer to the trial story instead of meandering so deeply into Hank's personal life. The subplots involving his custody battle, and the guilt Hank suffers for ruining his older brother's baseball career when they were teens deserve to be in this film, but don't warrant the screen time they get; indeed, they weigh the film down. To make matters worse, Dobkin lays melodramatic, syrupy strings on the soundtrack to cue our emotion, and the film drags duo to its unwieldy 141-minute running time.
 
The DVD in this dual-disc package offers only a fun featurette of supporting actor Dax Shepard interviewing the cast. However, the Blu-ray boasts an informative director's commentary; more commentary over 18 minutes of deleted scenes (including Downey toking up and trying on rock t-shirts); and a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that glimpses Duvall and Downey rehearsing. The generous bonus features elevate this release.

(Warner)