Give me any movie starring Denzel Washington and I can already be looking forward to what kind of versatility he brings to each one of his characters. As this is writer/director Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to one of 2014’s best movies Nightcrawler (with a stunning Jake Gyllenhaal performance overlooked by the Oscars), there could be a chance that Roman J. Israel, Esq. might be another great film in his career. But it doesn’t offer up anything special in this lawyer drama.
Set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system Roman J. Israel (Washington) a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when his mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When he is recruited to join a firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students – the ambitious lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell) – and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a turbulent series of events ensue that will put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.
The trailer didn’t do anything for me and after it had its premiere at TIFF, they had to re-edit the film to tighten up the pace (don’t know if it helps). Regardless, maybe this could be an entertaining drama that will lead to a memorable story and the main character with deep layers. But nothing came full circle with how Roman J. Israel, Esq. turned out to be in the end.
Even if this wasn’t entirely good, Washington still gives a committed performance with his puffy, tall afro and style that sent him back to the late 60’s, he just wants to do his job right. Still one of my favorite actors working today, I wouldn’t say it compares with his roles in Flight or Fences, both in which he was nominated for an Oscar, but it’s at least somewhere in his best performances. And the scenes with him, Farrell, or Ejogo did work a lot. His character does turn out to be complex, and there’s a decision that he made that I don’t fully understand why, but it’s the way he’s written, but I just can’t like that making his unlikable after the first half.
Other than the performances, Roman J. Israel, Esq. just wasn’t getting enough of my attention, and that’s disappointing to say from someone like Gilroy to come up with. Something about the story just didn’t really captivated me once it started. After it was over, I’m still trying to understand what was the true plot was about. It’s honestly pretty boring with some interesting dialogue, but nothing that was very smart and understandable for people who doesn’t get lawyer talk or something.
Difficult to tell if this was trying to be a big Oscar contender as this pretty much failed to be engaging. And I’m probably going to forget about it very soon. Nothing about Roman J. Israel, Esq. is exactly terrible, but I was expecting this to be a lot better than it sounds. Gilroy might be going on something else much more for this legal drama though it didn’t make me want to become an accomplished lawyer after watching it. Maybe checking out Erin Brockovich or A Time to Kill are better titles than this untimely.
Aside from Denzel Washington’s role as the titular character, Roman J. Israel, Esq. just wasn’t promising suffers from an unfocused story in this boring follow-up from Dan Gilroy.