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'The Judge': The plot offers no surprises

'The Judge' stars Robert Downey Jr. as a lawyer who defends his estranged father in a possible manslaughter rap. 

Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'The Judge' stars Robert Downey Jr. (l.) and Vera Farmiga (r.).

In “The Judge,” Robert Downey Jr. has his first serious, non-superhero dramatic role since “The Soloist” in 2009. It’s nice to see this great actor appearing in something other than franchise cash cows, but his new movie won’t likely inspire him to do more of the same. 

It’s a by-the-book father-son drama starring Downey as Hank Palmer, a Chicago lawyer known for defending “only the rich and guilty,” and Robert Duvall as his flinty, estranged father, Joseph Palmer, a respected pillar-of-the-community Indiana judge. Hank has returned home, after a very long absence, for his mother’s funeral (and to flee from his wife’s infidelity) and, while there, finds himself defending his father in a possible manslaughter rap.

There is nothing surprising about the way this overlong movie, written and directed by David Dobkin, plays itself out. Duvall does his crusty codger bit, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vera Farmiga have standout cameos, and Downey gives an intense, tightly-wound performance that is better than this movie deserves. Regardless of how this film fares, I hope he decides to make more movies that don’t require him to be encased in a superhero suit. Grade: C+ (Rated R for language including some sexual references.)

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