By Mary Milliken
TORONTO (Reuters) - Actors Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall brought their father-and-son dysfunction drama "The Judge" to Toronto on Thursday to open the city's film festival, an early arbiter in the movie industry's awards season.
Toronto's opening gala gives a note of Hollywood glamour to a festival known for its sprawling program - 285 films screened multiple times over 11 days - and the participation of ordinary people, who ultimately decide the top prize.
On the red carpet before "The Judge" premiere in downtown Toronto, Downey Jr., best known for his superhero role in the "Iron Man" movies, said the kick-off slot was an honor.
"I like the idea too, like if you have the first dance at a wedding, you really want to whip it up, you want to get the floor hot and sticky and I'm hoping that 'The Judge' will do that," Downey Jr. said.
In "The Judge," a Warner Bros. film directed by David Dobkin, Downey Jr. is hot-shot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer who returns to his small Indiana hometown to face estranged father Joseph, played by Duvall, who is a revered judge charged in a murder.
Hank and Joseph not only have to heal wounds, they have to come to terms with Joseph's need for his son, both for his legal defense and his failing health.
"These movies don't really get made any more," said Dobkin. "I grew up loving 'Kramer vs. Kramer' and 'Terms of Endearment' and 'The Verdict'."
Variety chief film critic Justin Chang said Downey Jr. and Duvall have "ferocious onscreen chemistry."
"Refreshing as it is to see Downey step out of the Iron Man suit for a spell," Chang wrote, "the jury's still out on whether an impressive talent roster can draw enough grown-up eyeballs to this overlong, resolutely old-fashioned male weepie."
But Duvall said inaugurating the festival was a good sign for the film that opens in North America on Oct. 10.
"I think it shows that people are thinking about it in very serious terms and I guess liking it," said the 83-year-old actor, famous for his roles in "The Godfather" and "Tender Mercies," for which he won his only Oscar.
The Canadian city will be awash in celebrities, premieres and parties over the weekend, when media attention is at its height.
But several of the most anticipated films, like "Wild" starring Reese Witherspoon and "The Imitation Game" with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, will not show until early next week because they screened first at the smaller Telluride Film Festival last month.
The Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 39th year, has anointed several films that have gone on to win the best picture Oscar, including last year's winner, "12 Years a Slave."
The second day of the festival on Friday is "Bill Murray Day," to honor the comic Chicago actor with screenings of his famous movies "Groundhog Day" and "Ghostbusters" among others and the world premiere of his new film "St. Vincent."
(Additional reporting by Robert Mezan from Reuters TV; Editing by Nick Macfie)