Klavan On The Culture

Did Critics Attack The Judge for Its Politics?

I always get a bit suspicious when there’s a wide disparity between the critical reviews for a movie and the reactions of actual human beings. It quite often means the movie is favorable toward the concept of God or fails in some other way to toe the left-wing line. The critics, along with the outlets for which they work, are biased to the radical left and politics and religion distort their views.

At this writing, the new Robert Downey Jr/Robert Duvall drama The Judge has a critical rating of 47% on Rotten Tomatoes but a human rating of 81%. It also gets an excellent A-minus rating from Cinemascore, which gauges audience reaction. It’s doing only okay at the box office, but it’s up against Gone Girl, a blockbuster sucking up the air in the R-rated room. It may yet do better, and will almost certainly have a good life on DVD, streaming and the rest.

I’ve seen the film and liked it quite a lot. Maybe more of a B-plus than an A-minus. It features a fantastic cast in a solid family-courtroom drama. Both the wonderful Downey and the stupendous Duvall are working smack dab in their wheelhouses and Vincent D’Onofrio quietly turns in a slam-bang performance that nearly blows everyone else off the screen. The love, grief and anger of the central family are especially well imagined and written. One scene in a bathtub is close to classic. And the courtroom stuff works pretty well. If the whole thing fails to rise to the level of greatness (and very, very few films do), I suspect it’s because it fails to engage as honestly as it might have with its central theme, which is the balance of justice and mercy. If it had, it would have made some better decisions about its plot and characters toward the end. But that said, it’s a good and engrossing movie: over two hours, and entertaining every step of the way.

In a quick check of the reviews, I find Rolling Stone dismissed the film as “bilge”; the New York Times called it “a supershouty, macho-weepy… melodrama”; while Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times is honest and considered, praising the pleasures of the movie, especially the acting, while saying the film’s “vivid and volatile core is often undercut by a weakness for middle-of-the-road sentiment and a desire to be all things to all people.” There’s some truth to that.

So did God and politics play into the pans? Hard to say on this one. Downey and Duvall are both on the right side of the political spectrum. Duvall — a fair candidate for greatest American actor of his generation — is an admirable tough guy who’ll say anything to anyone who asks him. Downey keeps it quieter, but is not afraid to indicate where he stands. The script assumes that Ronald Reagan was a great man and great president in the way most Hollywood scripts assume he was not. God has a brief cameo, but even a screaming atheist would find it inoffensive. And if you think the word “macho” is a pejorative, well, the movie would make you use it pejoratively. Most of us see “macho” as a compliment, but if I have to explain that to you, you’re probably an idiot or work for the New York Times. And yes, you guessed it, I repeat myself.

All in all, my guess is that it is not any of these details, but a certain tone in the movie that offended the critics. It is a tone that takes ordinary people seriously and treats them with respect; that honors America and its institutions; that thinks the relationships between men are worthy of dignified inspection and understanding; and that recognizes that “you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your actions.”

All of those attitudes are to progressives what a cross is to a vampire. Or what a cross is to a progressive.

The Judge has its flaws, but it’s a good movie. Its tone, in fact, elevates it — but I think that’s also what damned it among the leftist jackasses who govern too much of our culture.