Going to see The Judge is a little like binge-watching twelve Lifetime movies in a row, if Lifetime changed its mission statement to “Television For Older White Men.” Here are some of the plot elements:
1. A big-city hot shot attorney who’s sold his soul for money and a fancy car.
2. The hot-shot’s flinty, emotionally witholding Dad, who’s an incorruptible smalltown Judge.
3. The hotshot’s brother, whose early chance at a major league baseball career was destroyed by a car accident (the female version of this kind of character has her dreams thwarted by an unplanned teenage pregnancy, and that story appears in this movie too.)
4. The hotshot’s other brother, who suffers from an unexplained handicap that gives him the mental age of an innocent 10-year-old. In most movies, this character will usually wear a baseball cap and sneakers well into middle age, but in the Judge he settles for bangs.
5. Snarling local trash, always up to no good, and driving pick-up trucks.
6. An adorable child who asks smart, embarassing questions.
All of these folks collide in an idyllic town somewhere in a place that should be called, on the highway signs, “Not New York.” Robert Downey Jr. is always fun to watch as the hotshot, who expresses his personal growth by removing his sunglasses, and wearing a baseball cap backwards. Robert Duvall is his crusty Dad, and during their many intense confrontations, one of which is set outdoors during a violent storm, the two Roberts seem to be tossing an Academy Award back and forth, as they shout and weep and almost hug, but then don’t, because once they hug, the movie’s over. I kept hoping that the movie would include some John Grisham twists, but it’s more on the level of Murder, He Wrote, or maybe a new Dick Wolf series called Law&Acting.
I also saw Kill The Messenger, which is a more interesting movie based on a true story, about how a California newspaper reporter tried to uncover the truth about the CIA’s relationship with drug traffickers during the Contra mess. Jeremy Renner is great as the reporter, and the movie is a paranoid thriller in the style of All The President’s Men and The Parallax View. This means that the script makes being a journalist seem like a sexy, dangerous profession filled with clandestine trips to Nicarauga, to interview druglords, and hotel room visits from shadowy figures with secrets to spill. These kind of films turn reporters into movie stars, which I think is just fine, although Kill The Messenger does have an awful lot of pounding, suspenseful music on the soundtrack, even when Jeremy Renner is just walking down a Sacramento hallway.
There are scenes in both The Judge and Kill The Messenger which take place in mens rooms, as characters hold extended conversations while standing side by side at urinals. This sort of scene may very well be the guy’s version of two female friends chatting over brunch, or while trying on shoes. But I hope that from now on, if a scene isn’t interesting enough, that directors won’t suggest, “Hey, what if both guys were peeing?” Maybe the guys can just browse for really cool sunglasses together, if you ask me.