Alexander Glover reviews the courtroom drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. which was released in cinemas on February 2nd.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo
Release Date: 2nd February
Dan Gilroy, the director of the excellent Nightcrawler (2014), returns with another interesting delve into the psyche of a social misfit. This time, Denzel Washington tackles the role of the titular character, an idealistic defence attorney in the busy Los Angeles criminal court system.
Roman J. Israel is a hard-working lawyer dedicated to improving the world around him. He chose a career above having a family. He is inspired by the great black rights activists that came before him, has an obsession with music, and lives a solitary life.
Israel’s life is upended when his mentor and law partner has a heart attack and he must step up as the face of their small criminal defence firm. He has always operated in the shadows of the organisation and at one point says that he is usually discouraged from public speaking. This appears to be with good reason as we see Roman’s words get him into trouble on several occasions.
“The film seems to have been made with one eye on award season.”
The film seems to have been made with one eye on award season. To this end, it is Washington who is receiving the attention with his various nominations for best leading actor. It is a strong performance from the actor but overall it feels as if the film tries to communicate important lessons that are never fully grasped by the audience thanks to the unpredictable choices of Israel.
Following the big change in his life, Israel experiences a schism. He is at war with the conflicting sides of himself. On one hand, he doesn’t want to turn his back on everything he has spent his life fighting for. On the other, he feels as if he hasn’t been living his best life as a result of fighting for everybody else. At one point, he says: “I’m tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful”.
The other big-name actor in the film is Colin Farrell who plays the slick, ambitious, and successful lawyer George Pierce. Pierce runs a big law firm and has spent the majority of his career with a focus on money-making. When Israel enters his life, he is inspired to see things differently and starts to make some changes to his firm.
If there is one lesson to be learnt from this film, it’s that: “Each of us is better than the worst thing we ever did.” Israel makes this point and hopes others will remember it about him.
In a Nutshell: Potential Oscar bait that oozes virtue in every scene. Washington puts in a solid performance but overall it’s a forgettable film.