How does a film like THE JUDGE still get made?
My annual trek through the Oscar nominees in the biggest categories brought me to this lightweight film last night thanks to the honouring of 84-year-old Robert Duvall in the Best Supporting Actor category. Duvall plays Judge Joseph Palmer, who has become a pillar of his small town Indiana community, sometimes at the chagrin of his sons. The most icy relationship comes between Joseph and his middle son Hank (Robert Downey Jr.) – mostly stemming from Hank’s teenage mistakes and the cost that came with them.
After the matriarch of the Palmer family passes away, Joseph is charged with murder having hit a civilian with his car on a rainy night and fled the scene. The man usually on the bench is put at the defendant’s table, and it’s put to his estranged son to defend him in court.
When I ask how a film like this still gets made, it’s not because it’s bad – it’s not. The film is a little hokey at times and far longer than it should ever be, but it’s not a bad movie. It’s handsome, well-acted, and reasonably entertaining. However, it’s also toothless, familiar, and – as previously mentioned – long. No, the reason I ask how a film like this still gets made is because it seems like a throwback to something Hollywood was doing twenty years ago.
Remember how every year from 1993 until about 1998, Hollywood would adapt a John Grisham best-seller? Remember also how audiences gobbled most of them up even though the bulk of the audiences had already read the books and knew how they were going to turn out? THE JUDGE feels like it would have been at home in amongst those features. Robert Downey Jr. seems cut from the same cloth as Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, or Matt Damon, and had this fictional small town been placed in Tennessee or Alabama instead of Indiana, the cookie cutter would be complete.
But no – THE JUDGE is an original piece of work…starring big names…given a big budget…and released to the masses in 2014. The film even muscled the star power of Robert Downey Jr. into taking the opening night gala slot at The Toronto International Film Festival last autumn.
How did anybody high up at Warner Brothers believe that this was a film worth investing in now? Getting grown-ups to go to the movie theatres to see movies meant for them has become an increasingly uphill climb, especially with so much of “that sort of story” being so well-executed on TV. Was it star-power that made WB give this the full-court press? Did they feel as though audiences would see Tom Higgins and Tony Stark and cough up their twenty-five dollars? If that’s what they felt, they guessed wrong since the film didn’t clear its costs domestically though it did eek out enough to creep into the black internationally.
Let that be a lesson; foreign audiences love RDJ as Iron Man but won’t flock to him doing his best “Perry Mason”
THE JUDGE is a “nice movie”…but the studios don’t seem all that interested in making “nice movies” anymore, nor do audiences seem all that interested in going to them. They might watch them on Netflix one Wednesday night, or on cable one Sunday afternoon…but that hardly seems worth investing $50M in.
As for how it scores itself an Oscar nomination, your guess is as good as mine.