The time is about ripe for a lush Grisham tribute, and The Judge dlivers on all fronts, offering up an intricate, tightly crafted story about a hotshot lawyer, Hank Palmer, played by Robert Downey Jr, who returns to his home town in Indiana for the first time in years, after hearing that his mother has passed away. At first it seems like it’s going to be a homecoming film, a reckoning with the past, but that’s quickly channelled into a legal drama, as Frank discovers that his father, Henry, a local Judge, played by Robert Duvall, was involved in a hit-and-run on the night of his mother’s funeral, and is being brought before the local courthouse where he usually presides on murder charges. The stage is set for the kind of regional legal drama that Grisham did so well, except that in this case the traditional Grisham narrative of the small-town ingenue arriving in the big city is somewhat inverted, with Frank arriving back home to confront why he was disillusioned enough to seek out the city in the first place. From the very beginning, that makes him more volatile and neurotic than the typical Grisham lawyer – or at least more willing to wear his volatility on his sleeve - as Downey sinks into one of his best performances in years, embracing a role that gives him full rein to deliver the skittish, dodging kind of charisma that he does so well. In fact, it’s probably Downey’s presence that prevents the film ever feeling too rigid in its genre tribute, or ever really stabilising into one single genre – deflective and appealing in a single breath, he manages to keep the film on its toes, although he’s helped by a perfect sparring partner in Duvall, as well as an object lesson in how to assemble and orchestrate a cameo cast, with Vera Farmiga, Grace Zabriskie and a Fargo-esque Billy Bob Thornton appearing in a mere handful of scenes but nevertheless critical to the film’s momentum. Still, it’s very much Downey’s film, partly because the specificities of the narrative – and the way they both artfully and tactfully sync up with his own backstory – play perfectly to his fidgety restlesness with his own muscularity and masculinity, his ability to exude a barely concealed shame consciousness that’s quite queer, reminding you why he’s so often found playing characters who are perpetually running away from themselves. In particular, Downey has an uncanny way of bringing out his inner kid without resorting to kitsch – vulnerable, flighty and a bit immature – that might be more acclaimed in the Iron Man franchise, but is perfectly attuned to what it needs to divest this film, and his relationship with Duvall, with any of the ponderous gravitas it might have had, since, whatever terrible thing the “Judge” has done to warrant Frank staying out of his life for over a decade, it’s clear that Frank needs to be petted and managed a little bit as well, which leads to some of the most touching scenes in the film. Thick with Midwestern atmospherics, it’s an old-fashioned, modest exercise, but for that very reason content to let all its actors deliver stalwart, intricately plotted performances without overwhelming them with the need to be high concept, a breath of fresh air that Downey, in particular, needs as his charisma is squeezed tighter and tighter by Marvel universe-building, which doesn't tend to have much time for the skittishly sentimental Downey on display here.