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Toronto: Deliberating ‘The Judge’ as Awards Contender

Robert Duvall appears to be strongest possibility for drama in supporting actor category

The Judge Toronto Film Festival

“The Judge” features a great lineup of talent, above and below the line, but the main focus (both to mainstream audiences and awards voters) will be on the two Roberts: Downey Jr. and Duvall.

Duvall seems like the safest bet for supporting-actor recognition. Downey could potentially contend as lead actor, though he’s facing strong competition in a category that’s getting jam-packed with the likes of Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) and possibly “Boyhood” newcomer Ellar Coltrane.

The project is proudly old-fashioned: Murder trials were once a staple of Hollywood films; not so much now. But “Judge” is less about a courtroom than about family relationships. But what it’s REALLY about is performances.

The film, from Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow, was opening-night attraction of the Toronto Film Festival Thursday. In his introduction at Roy Thomson Hall, director David Dobkin thanked the WB-Roadshow execs, saying this is “not the kind of movie that gets made often in Hollywood.” It IS an anomaly, which will charm some voters, as will the theme of a mid-life adult dealing with aging parents.

“Judge” is the first film produced by Team Downey, consisting of the actor and producer Susan Downey. They have smartly created a package centering on a character that has his cocky-vulnerable persona, but deepens it. It may be his best performance, but they were smart enough to ensure the film is not just a solo vehicle.

The artisan work from d.p. Janusz Kaminski, production designer Mark Ricker, composer Thomas Newman and others are all impressive, but always center-stage are Downey, Duvall and the other actors (who each get moments to shine).

As an actor’s movie, it’s a fitting start to the festival, which features a dozen awards hopefuls — but, interestingly, the advance buzz on most of them is about the lead thesps.