Weekend picks: The Judge & Truffaut
Defense councilor Robert Downey, Jr. is having a bad week in the courtroom drama The Judge. A death in the family brings the big city lawyer back to his estranged family, in particular the paterfamilias played by Robert Duvall. You’re immediately struck by how good the performances are in this film directed by David Dobkin, a director primarily known for helming comedies (some good like Wedding Crashers, others not so good like The Change-up).
Downey, Jr. as Hank Palmer wants his grief to be short lived but before he can return to his lucrative practice, which consists of getting corporate criminals off the hook, he has to come to terms with Duvall, as Judge Parker, being charged with manslaughter in a hit and run case. Natch, the wily attorney has to up his game, defend his own dad in a small town court, and own up to the life he left behind. An above average cast includes Vera Farmiga (a former high school flame), Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard and Billy Bob Thornton.
In a film like this that mixes family drama with courtroom banter you have a lot of characters, some of whom get a lot of character development, others not so much. Thornton, as the prosecuting attorney, should’ve had more scenes. As things are Thornton is great but he’s one-note and his character would’ve benefited from some bulking up.
The look of Chicago in contrast to a small town in Illinois is played for maximum effect. Palmer has come to a place where people can sit next to the rushing waters of the country and examine their thoughts. But like the big city there are haves and have-nots. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski sets a kind of standard for the seriousness on display. People with dark lives or in dark suits surrounded by grim surroundings. (Think what Gordon Willis did in The Godfather.)
A couple of other films playing at area theaters that deserve some attention this weekend include a pair of François Truffaut films playing at the MFAH on Saturday. Shoot the Piano Player unwinds Saturday, October 11 at 6 pm. followed by The Bride Wore Black at 8 pm. The latter is Truffaut in Hitchcock mode as we follow a femme fatale (Jeanne Moreau) who is systematically knocking off the men responsible for the death of her husband. Both films are first-rate crime thrillers told with the Truffaut touch.
- Michael Bergeron