The Judge

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The spotlight in this film is squarely on Duvall (Jack Reacher) in the titular role. He creates a complex man who is strong, uncompromising,  believable, and sympathetic. He lays out a nuanced story that will have you hating and loving him all at once. Outside of Duvall there are other characters and performances, but his is the stand-out focus.

Downey Jr. (Chef), who is arguably the lead role, as his prodigal son does what he does best: Robert Downey Jr. It doesn’t get old for me, and it is always entertaining. The sad reality is that he is actually a good actor, but what he brings to this part is his star power; that persona he’s created for screen that people shell out dollars for time after time. As his brothers, D’Onofrio (Imposter) and Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) deliver quiet and touching performances to support the bigger story.

In side roles are Thornton and Farmiga (Goats). The former in a controlled and intense role that is magnetic on screen. The latter delivers a strong, female performance in a story that is otherwise, and somewhat purposefully, devoid of adult female presence.

As a story, it is a completely engaging, gripping, and provocative tale about family. “Provocative” isn’t necessarily bad. Most huge hits, and some of our favorites, are completely manipulative and formulaic in this way. It simply means the story is designed in an exacting way to elicit particular emotions and catharsis. Isn’t that why we watch films… to be affected?

In this case the story does also have some surprises, at least  in the specifics, and it is well written by by Shenk (Grand Torino) and new-comer Dubuque. Dobkin (The Change-Up) directed  it all rather well, keeping the 2.5 hours taught and interesting.  It isn’t a brilliant film on its own, but the cast infuse it with some serious emotion and power.

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