Robert Downey Jr. Is Getting Serious With ‘The Judge’

The trailer for Robert Downey Jr.’s new legal family drama, The Judge, has been released, signaling the start of a new, more serious direction the actor could take once his long-running role as Marvel’s Tony Stark/Iron Man is over. The Judge co-stars Robert Duvall and sees Downey Jr. in the most serious dramatic role the actor has done in a while.

The Judge premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and will see a wide release on October 10. In the movie Downey Jr. plays a big-shot lawyer who returns to his hometown when his elderly mother passes away. While he’s there he ends up defending his father, the town’s venerable local judge, played by Duvall, in court when the father is accused of murder.

The film marks the first big release from Team Downey, the production company started by Downey Jr. and his wife, Susan. The actor told The Toronto Sun that he hopes the movie could mark a return to the prestige pictures of the old days when studios would make dramas with big stars for less money than big summer blockbusters. “Everyone says this feels like those movies we grew up watching,” Downey says. “For Susan, it was Broadcast News. For me, it was The Verdict. For both of us, it was Terms of Endearment. Remember when those movies used to have a studio card in front of them?”

Downey Jr. rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a member of the acting Brat Pack, then moved to more serious roles after his acclaimed turn as a drug addict in the adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1993 for his performance as Charlie Chaplin in the biopic Chaplin, but by the late 1990s Downey Jr.’s troubles with drugs had taken their toll on his life and career. The actor was unable to work and bounced in and out of the court room, jail, and rehab. It took five years before Downey Jr. finally overcame his addiction and returned to acting in 2001.

Landing the starring role as Iron Man in 2008 finally made Downey Jr. into the enormous movie star that many thought he’d had the potential to be for years. The actor told The Toronto Sun at the Toronto Film Festival this year that starring in the dark crime-comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang in 2005, when his career was just getting back on its feet, gave Iron Man director Jon Favreau the confidence to choose Downey Jr. for the part.

While Downey Jr. has received raves for his take on Iron Man and the movies have raked in billions at the box office to become one of the most successful film franchises of all time, playing the over-confident, witty genius Tony Stark isn’t exactly something that’s going to put Downey Jr. in the running for another Academy Award. Downey Jr. has done some more serious movies in the wake of Iron Man, with mixed success.

The actor was nominated for another Academy Award for his role as a soldier in black-face in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, but his high-drama partnership with Jamie Foxx, The Soloist, flopped. Other than those films, the majority of his roles after Iron Man haven’t been very serious, like the silly comedy Due Date or his other big-budget franchise, Sherlock Holmes.

But now Downey Jr. must plan for his future as an actor after he’s finished playing Iron Man. The actor has said that he’s willing to be in a third Avengers film but that a fourth Iron Man movie isn’t in the cards — for him, anyway. It’s possible given the massive amount of money the Iron Man movies have made that Marvel could seek to find an actor to replace Downey Jr. in the role and keep pumping them out, though whoever took on the part would have some big, charismatic shoes to fill.

After Iron Man, it seems that Downey Jr. wants to both pursue his production company and move toward a more serious acting career. Before The Judge, Downey Jr. starred in another more serious film, Chef, a comedy starring Jon Favreau that got great reviews due to a strong ensemble cast.

The Judge, however, hasn’t gotten very good reviews on the festival circuit and so might not be the best contender for Downey Jr. to make a big comeback into serious movies. The movie has just a 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics have said that it relies on too many cliches. “A combination of two very codified genres, the courtroom drama and the small-town homecoming movie, it’s better than one would expect from the director of Shanghai Knight and Fred Claus, without being especially interesting in any regard,” said The A.V. Club.

“Just watching snarky Chicago lawyer Robert Downey Jr. spar with crotchety father Robert Duvall as he tries to defend the small-town Indiana jurist on a murder rap is worth the admission to the overlong and sometimes schmaltzy The Judge,” reads a review by the New York Post. The Judge isn’t likely to be an Oscar contender this year with reviews like that, but the choice could be a sign that Downey Jr. is going to keep pushing for more serious roles as he completes his commitments with both the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes franchises.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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