The Uneven Nature of Life: Our Review of ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, TIFF 2017 by - November 22, 2017
The Uneven Nature of Life: Our Review of ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’

How you play a game always changes when you realize that the game is rigged…

With Roman J. Israel, Esq. hitting theatres now, we get Denzel in fine form as per the usual but he’s saddled with a weak narrative that doesn’t do justice to the character that he is playing which causes it all to feel a little all over the map.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when a turbulent series of events (including the death of his partner who tolerated his various eccentricities) challenge the activism that has defined his career and his left with looking at the law that he loves so dearly as a business and a commodity rather then it as a tool to improve the lives of others.

Obviously playing on the idealistic fish out of water idea, Roman J. Israel, Esq. actually more than anything suffers from a general lack of focus.  It always makes its characters interesting but actually doesn’t put all that much effort into making any of them likeable or even remotely relatable as Denzel with a sociological condition that is never really defined just plays out weirder then you’d really expect.

As the follow up to his vastly underrated Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy kind of limps across the gate with this effort as there were far too many moments that felt underdeveloped.  It looks good as he navigates the city streets of Los Angeles but we never really fell any kind of gravitas or importance to anything that was happening.  It’s sleek but soulless and when we meet Roman for the first time and see how he is as an individual his aimlessness while faced with a complete change in his life feels organic but not really effective as a part of visual storytelling.  Gilroy does OK with it all, but it’s all a little too bloated as he leans on the character of Roman far too much to get across a point that he isn’t selling all that well.

Denzel can easily play it all with ease and aplomb but this time out his character arc feels so unresolved that it makes for an unsatisfying all be it still interesting experience.  He’s a fish out of water, but is blending so many different kinds of social dysfunctional and autistic type of character traits that more than anything we just don’t know if he’s genuinely different and sees the law and his passions that way, or just a maladjusted asshole who is incapable of functioning inside of modern society.  His character arc almost feels like mimicry, and is just doing what other people thinks he’s supposed to be doing, but without any real motivation for these actions, it just fizzles out and never goes anywhere poignant. 

The rest of the ensemble does have some interesting characters like Colin Farrell’s George Pierce who tries to take Roman under his wing in his law firm and Carmen Ejogo’s activist Maya Alston but both are so underwritten in their interactions with Denzel’s character that is just never goes anywhere.

Far too much character work was put on the shoulders of Denzel to move this all along and while it’s not an uninteresting effort, it’s all way to scattershot to effectively sell to audiences.  It’s not that Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a bad watch; but you’ll be disappointed because you’ll be able to see ways it really could have been a lot better because there is a good movie here, but Denzel and Dan Gilroy just couldn’t find it.

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David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.