It can be thrilling to watch an actor explore new ground,especially when that actor is someone of the caliber of Denzel Washington. Watching him go to work with a character like Roman J. Israel, Esq. was an exhilarating way to spend a couple of hours. However, in that same breath, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a pretty strange film, one that attempts to reconcile activists past and present, but kind of trips over itself in doing that.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. has one of the more interesting flash forwards I’ve seen with Roman typing up a court case where he is both plaintiff and defendant and arguing against/for his disbarment given his moral failings. We then flashback three weeks and see how Roman went from being the living encyclopedia of law behind the scenes partner of a small firm to joining forces with a major one and losing his way.
Roman’s desire to fight for the little guy is quite admirable and this movie presents an interesting morality test for the audience. What would you do if you were in Roman’s shoes? Roman is the epitome of a good guy and when his good heart gets broken the final time, he begins to see that living life could be a little easier. It’s something we often ask ourselves how we’d proceed and to be honest, 99% of people would have done what Roman did. What Roman J. Israel, Esq. does well is lets the character slide into the morally grey area that ends up getting him in trouble. Denzel gets some juicy material and he digs into it with relish.
Where the film comes up short is mainly in the hands of Dan Gilroy’s choices outside of what is on camera. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is trying to be Nightcrawler when it should be aiming for Michael Clayton. There’s so much extraness in this film that just doesn’t need to be there from a post production standpoint. The editing and sound design are that of a thriller, with loud noises and overbearing score accompanying many of the emotional beats, and I wished Dan Gilroy had trusted his words and actors more than to attempt to fill in imaginary gaps with things that detract from the film.