There are certain movies where the performance of the lead actor/actress is far greater than the film itself. Many spring to mind immediately including Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences to name just a few.
Well, Denzel Washington has appeared in another movie where his performance is much better than the film itself.
Now, sometimes the great performance elevates the material and you start to see them as one and the same. My three previous examples all received Oscar nominations for the films though none of them actually were Oscar worthy outside of individual performances. I do not think that Washington’s new film, Roman J. Israel, Esq. will be nominated like these other films were, but it certainly falls into the same category.
The problem with the film is that there is not much more to it beside a strong and oddball performance from a great actor in Denzel Washington.
Roman J. Israel is a lawyer who has been working in a partnership with another lawyer for years. Roman was the behind-the-scenes, legal expert and the partner was the “face” of the company. Roman was an advocate for change within the system, carrying around a briefcase full of case action suit targeting the process of overcharging defendants to get plea bargains.
It was clear that Roman J. Israel had his priorities straight and that, despite being most likely somewhere upon the Autism Spectrum (though technically never stated), never lost track of who he was. When his friend and partner died, Roman was thrown into situations that he had been shielded from for years and, suddenly, things like money and people’s opinions started to weigh heavy on the lawyer.
Denzel Washington does an amazing job creating this character and showing you how the situations really make him mortgage his personal ideals. Washington engulfs himself in bad haircuts and misfitting suits, though you always see Denzel when watching. He does not disappear into the role such as Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler, a film, like this one, also directed by Dan Gilroy.
Unfortunately, the story really wanders around too much, lacking focus for much of the film and eventually devolves into a dramatic thriller that stretches credibility too far.
Colin Farrell plays lawyer George Pierce, who hires Roman after the loss of Roman’s friend and colleague, but, unfortunately, the character of George is all over the place. He seems to be a douche at first, and then suddenly appreciates Roman’s skills and then becomes angry with him for an error and then wants to be his friend. I love Colin Farrell and he does a fine job as an actor in this film, but his character needed to be defined better.
Denzel Washington’s performance almost made this movie a movie that I would recommend, but I cannot quite get there. The plot is just not there enough and the last third of the film becomes nonsensical. However, it is clear that Denzel Washington is one of the top actors of our generation and his performance nearly pulled this film into respectability. If you are someone who enjoys an amazing acting accomplishment, you might find Roman J. Israel, Esq. a meaningful watch.