There have been some great movies about law, lawyers and all that jazz. Is Roman J. Israel Esq another we can add to the list?
Roman J. Israel Esq, Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, Flight), is a pretty useless lawyer/attorney, at least, that’s what it seems like during the first half of this film. Except, I believe we’re supposed to think he’s actually a brilliant lawyer who just keeps speaking his mind and getting himself in trouble.
He does that, a lot, but it just comes across as incompetence, not some ‘quirk’. Israel is thrust into a big city law firm headed by George, Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, The Lobster), who believes him to be a savant-like figure, but he just manages to mess up a case which results in the offendant being killed.
Before the offendant was murdered however, he provided Israel with details of who the real killer was. Details which he then passes on to the murdered shop keepers family and claims the $100,000 reward for himself.
He uses some of the money to rent a swanky new apartment and some swanky new clothes and, for reasons that aren’t fully explored, he changes from being a lawyer concerned with human rights and helping his fellow man, to one who wants to have success and the trappings that go with it.
This conflicts with his original stance and intentions and goes against what he’d said originally to Maya, Carmen Ejogo (Alien: Covenant, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) who runs an activist group and was inspired by his original words.
In a strange twist, Israel and George end up defending the very man Israel shopped to claim the reward. The trouble is, this man knows what Israel has done and wants to make him pay.
Roman J. Israel Esq is a flawed film right from the start. It’s hard to understand how anyone thinks that he’s a great lawyer because writer and director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Kong: Skull Island) doesn’t ever show us this.
Washington plays the role very well mind you. The fat-suit he wears transforms his appearance, along with the awful 70’s suits he has at the start. But Washington’s performance is not enough to save the movie.
Character motivations, Israel’s in particular, change too readily whilst the rest of the cast are wafer thin and no-one develops. The movie doesn’t go anywhere, the premise seems lost amongst a sea of maybe’s and could be’s with all this chopping and chasing.
By the end, you’re left feeling a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing and unconcerned as yet another character changes their traits from one thing to another.
Whilst Roman J. Israel Esq has some great performances, they can’t save what is a slow, go-nowhere movie.
Roman J. Israel Esq is out in USA cinemas now and UK cinemas from the 2nd February 2018.