“The Judge”

I wish the State of Indiana would give financial incentives to movie-makers to film in Indiana. One of the winners of last year’s Heartland Film Festival was supposedly set in a small Indiana town, but was actually filmed in Shelburne, Massachusetts. True,the backdrop of director David Dobkin’s “The Judge” makes use of the proverbial diner,bar,tire shop,fishing cabin and front porch;yet,the town square and church architecture and countryside were nothing like Indiana. I could not keep from imagining Crawfordsville and Shades being a much better setting. The Berkshires are lovely,but don’t try to pass them off as Indiana’s environs by throwing in a tornado.

The cast of “The Judge” is what you go to see. Robert Downey, Jr. is superb in his impatience and candor. Vincent D’Onofrio is encyclical-like in his resignation and matter-of-fact suffering. Billy Bob Thornton could not be slicker or more savvy as prosecutor. Vera Farmiga is protective and accepting,yet bedeviled by her past choices.Ken Howard is masterful and ready for any conundrum posed. And finally, Robert Duvall scores an Oscar win as the once renowned judge, turned law-breaker. Duvall is perfection as a cantankerous and failing father awash in alcoholism and dementia.

Big ideas like justice,reconciliation and forgiveness mesh with the passing of time and chronicles of life’s pain in divorce,estrangement, parent death,unwed motherhood and lost promise. Throw in a hit and run fatality with courtroom scenes of bluster,and we almost have too much. I liked the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s mix of broad and close frames and the beautiful sound track.

The scenes of showering off bowel discharges and selecting a jury by bumper stickers are
tender,fresh and memorable. A crowd pleaser of a movie if it were only filmed in the heartland.