The Judge

Directed by: David Dobkin
Written by: Nick Schenk, David Seidler, and Bill Dubuque
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Leighton Meester, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton, Melissa Leo, and Vincent D’Onofrio
Synopsis: A successful lawyer (Downey Jr.)  returns to his hometown for his mother’s funeral only to discover that his estranged father (Duvall), the town’s judge, is suspected of murder.

Why It Could Succeed:

The story.  A man comes back to his small hometown to find out “the truth” about his father.  Surely there’ll be interesting townie tension to boot.  The Academy has long been friendly to family dramas, especially when father-son tales are involved.   I imagine there will be tears and emotional explosions.  Duvall nearly always delivers, so I expect he’ll have some stellar scenes.  The Academy (and critics alike) have been keen to praise the “good story, well- told” films of late.  I might be wrong, but this seems to be the type of film to fit that profile.

To succeed at the Oscars, it’s always nice to have a stellar ensemble.  The Judge stars Oscar-winners Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies), Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade), and Melissa Leo (The Fighter) alongside Oscar-nominees Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air).  From an acting perspective, The Judge offers an Academy-friendly smorgasbord.

Behind the camera boasts some interesting players, too.  While the director, David Dobkin (see below) isn’t on anyone’s radar for anything, he’s assembled a technical team that the Academy has admired in the past.  The King’s Speech scribe, David Seidler, did the first rewrite of Nick Schenk’s script before he himself was rewritten by Bill Dubuque.  Dobkin has enlisted 12-time Oscar also-ran Thomas Newman to compose, while nabbing three-time ACE Eddie nominee Mark Livolsi to edit the film.  Photographing The Judge is Steve Spielberg’s right-hand-man, Janusz Kaminski.  Even if he’s the DP on something like Funny People, double Oscar victor Kaminski seems to always bring his A-game.

Why It Might Not Succeed:

David Dobkin.  Not to put too much of my doubt on his shoulders, but Dobkin’s filmography (Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, and The Change-Up) doesn’t exactly spell Oscar success.  Sure the film could still land, for this isn’t a nail in The Judge‘s coffin (plenty of Oscar nominees have questionable pre-nomination work), however, it gives me pause.

The script makes me curious too.  While the story itself seems interesting and digestible for Academy members, the screenplay has had two rewrites, lending to its having a trio of screenwriters (one of which is an Oscar champ).  So many rewrites could make for a tight, honed script…or it could result in a disjointed mess.  At this point, it’s simply too early to tell, but it’s something I’ll keep my eye on.

The cast.  The last time Robert Downey Jr. had Oscar buzz for a leading role, we were given The Soloist.  Likewise, the last time Robert Duvall had Oscar buzz, he was unable to turn a SAG nomination for Get Low into his seventh Oscar nomination.  Betting on an industry veteran to land an Oscar nod used to be a safe gamble, but with recent snubs for Duvall, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Robert Redford, and Tom Hanks, who really knows?  Is this really a reason why The Judge won’t succeed? No.  But it is something that gives me doubt about its ability to transfer a good-story-well-told into nominations.

Oscar Potential:

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor, Robert Downey Jr.
Best Supporting Actor, Robert Duvall
Best Original Screenplay
Best Original Score (Thomas Newman)
Best Film Editing (Mark Livolsi)
Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski)