Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘The Judge’ opens Toronto as the spotlight turns to Robert Duvall

TORONTO – The 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival kicked off Thursday night and its opening night film, “The Judge,” brought some major star power. TIFF is known as being a red carpet festival (they seem to even be openly hyping it up this year) and nothing is better than Robert Downey Jr., one of the biggest stars in the world, posing for the paparazzi outside the massive Roy Thomson Hall.

Downey was joined by his wife and “Judge” producer Susan Downey, director David Dobkin and co-stars Vincent D'Onofrio (very big and very bald for Netflix and Marvel TV's “Daredevil”), Vera Ferminga (paycheck!), Dax Shepard (soon to be staring in and directing “CHiPs”) and the legendary Robert Duvall. The latter is so revered by everyone associated with the production that Downey came on stage during the pre-screening introductions second-to-last, to make sure the “Godfather” star got the biggest ovation.  

Following the premiere, which got off to a late start because of some opening night speeches from the heads of the festival, the cast and Dobkin received the almost requisite standing ovation from the Roy Thomson crowd (something the festival really needs to temper instead of continuing to encourage). A classy after party at Ivan Reitman's restaurant Montecito followed with Reitman, his son Jason (in town for “Men, Women & Children”), Shepard's significant other Kristen Bell and numerous Warner Bros. and festival dignitaries in attendance. Downey didn't stay for more than 30 minutes, but he was beaming following the audience's reaction at the theater (whether he feels the same after the reviews come in remains to be seen).  

Now, let's get to Oscar analysis. Frankly, “The Judge” is a tough one to call in terms of awards season. Most critics will not be kind to it. The screenplay and direction are highly manipulative and the first act is just a mess and all over the place (the film has two secondary storylines it does not need whatsoever). That being said, the movie is designed as a showcase for Downey and Duvall to chew up the scenery and it's not far-fetched for the latter to enjoy some supporting actor buzz. Will it amount to anything? Probably not, but the Academy Award winner for “Tender Mercies” has been threatening to earn his seventh acting nomination since he last found Oscar's invite back in 1999. If “The Judge” turns out to be a hit, and it seems like a movie that will play broadly, it will also help Duvall's campaign (if there even is one).

For more on the film, read Drew McWeeny's review.

“The Judge” opens nationwide on Oct. 10.