In Brief: Denzel’s character is interesting. Not much else is.
The dictionary’s first definition of esquire — you learn in Roman J. Israel, Esq. — is a term that lawyers can add to their names. You probably know it better by the classic definition of a knight in training. If pushed you could tag the film with the characteristics of a movie in training.
This one is that bad.
Israel is a brilliant legal mind with an almost photographic memory for facts and details of laws, cases and precedent. He’s middle-aged pushing old age and works for a law office that takes cases for the poor and downtrodden rejected by bigger firms. When a catastrophic health issue hits his boss, Israel finds himself working for the firm that gobbles up the business.
Alone and alienated from the world by choice, and sporting an outdated Afro, Israel is an unhappy man who remembers his youth when he was a crusader. He fought for the rights of those pushed around by an unsympathetic and sometimes cold-hearted legal system that removes the human equation and treats their cases as numbers and victories to be tallied.
All that aloneness, the loss of his boss, mentor and friend, tired of having nothing, and now working for a company that only cares about billable hours and not the defense of its clients, Israel goes off the deep end and makes a very big personal and professional mistake.
The mistake is the film’s purpose but not the focal point and it leads Washington to a type character he’s never done before. He plays the man as someone who shuffles through life more disoriented than oriented. Washington’s distracted delivery is — well — distracting. It’s often uncomfortable. It’s so bad you find yourself wanting to help him finish sentences.
While not award-worthy, the performance is brilliant. It’s the only thing remotely interesting about the movie.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is written and directed by Dan Gilroy. I have an interesting history with him. He wrote the really awful sci-fi flick Freejack which is the first movie I reviewed as a professional movie critic. Gilroy also wrote and directed The Fall which I think is not only the most Imaginatively beautiful movie I’ve ever reviewed, but is one of my all-time favorite stories.
This one finds itself in the category of the former and not the latter. Roman J. Israel, Esq. lacks focus and rambles almost as much as its lead character.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some language and violence. A different kind of character for Denzel Washington and a different kind of movie. Too bad it’s not a good one. Give it a 2 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
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