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Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Movie Review

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Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

Denzel Washington is an actor who can always be depended on to deliver a strong performance as he frequently gives each role his all. He knows when to be charming, serious, determined, frightening or eccentric, depending on what the character calls for. Roman J. Israel, Esq. uses Washington’s abilities well, but the story is all over the place and seems stuck being between a serious legal drama or a quirky examination of one man’s place in an industry fraught with corruption. The film is at its best during the latter portions and one wishes director/writer Dan Gilroy had focused more-so on that aspect.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. takes about twenty minutes to get going as it throws a bunch of legal jargon at the audience and attempts to introduce its titular protagonist. He’s quirky and socially awkward and a bit of a technical luddite? That’s the extent to which the film initially shows why we should be following him. The pacing and characterization pick up when Roman join Colin Farrell’s law firm. Seeing him in a stringent environment provides the proper opportunity for character development and when one begins to have a rooting interest in his obstacles. How does somebody used to working independently handle the transition to a regular office job? The screenplay does portray that in an interesting manner.

Farrell also doesn’t fall into the trap of being the antagonist. At the start of their business relationship, he’s stern, but he eventually grows into a more sympathetic character. There’s genuine concern on his part towards Roman’s clients, rather than merely seeing dollar signs. Washington seems to have slightly more chemistry with Farrell than with Carmen Ejogo as his potential love interest. Their scenes together don’t add to too much growth or plot progression. The screenplay seeks to explore Roman being corrupted by greed, but doesn’t convey that in a clean manner, mostly opting for a series of montages of him spending lavishly.

For the most part, Roman J. Israel, Esq. serves as a vehicle for Denzel Washington and he does the job of disappearing into the character. Washington does a better job than the script at showing his tics and quirks and exploring who he is. He gives the proper entry way into Roman and ultimately makes him a sympathetic figure by the end. The problem is the road leading up to getting to know him and the multiple plot strands Dan Gilroy takes us through. The film is at times entertaining and at other points, it’s a bit of a slog.

One can imagine Gilroy trying to piece the film together in post-production and the cut playing in theatres will be different than the version that screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will be interesting if the Blu-Ray versions will include both cuts, but it’s telling that the biggest thought is what separate the two director’s cuts rather than the actual film itself. There are some interesting themes presented and Washington provides his usual commendable work, but there’s little to make it stand out from other legal thrillers. Even the music feels derivative and that’s a shame. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a film where one can see the potential on the screen, but the editing makes it a little too jumbled.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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