HOLLYWOOD—Denzel Washington might not act in as many movies as he once did in the past, but one thing I can say is whenever he appears in a film he delivers a level of intensity, poise and sheer brilliance with each performance you cannot take your eyes away from the screen. Washington, who was nominated last year for Best Actor for his riveting work in “Fences” is back with his latest outing “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Now, I wouldn’t call this film a drama, it has dramatic flair, with moments of comedy that prevents the movie from coming across too heavy.
Washington stars as a Roman, a lawyer who has been living in the shadows for years at a small law firm in Los Angeles. The accolades for his work praised by others, while Roman sits back peddling his mind to find ways to fix a fractured criminal justice system that doesn’t always see justice served. For those who are fans of the world of all things legal, the movie is quite polarizing, but at the same time fun to watch things unfold. This is a character that isn’t as bold or front-and-center as previous characters Washington has portrayed in the past. He is socially awkward, and keeps a closed mind to the things that happen around him. The narrative kicks into gear when tragedy strikes his firm and Roman is forced to look for a new avenue of employment. The problem with “Roman J. Israel Esq.” is the plot is thin, and doesn’t really exude a tale that forces one to become enamored with the characters involved in the melee.
Colin Farrell delivers a solid performance as George Pierce, the colleague and boss of Roman at his new firm, and Carmen Ejogo, as Maya is nothing more than a pretty face who attempts to woo our main character, but the chemistry never feels fully developed for the spectator to care. These are both actors, whose caliber of acting expertise should have been utilized to its fullest degree. The film is directed and written by Dan Gilroy, the same guy who delivered the frenetic and thrill-a-minute “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal who delivered a fantastic performance.
That movie had a sense of urgency and a premise that made the viewer want to watch every second of the madness as it unfolded. Here, Gilroy has a fantastic character in Roman, but everything else is simply flat. Some of the characters are one note, while Washington is the standout and carries the film. With Washington’s performance, the movie would be knocked down even more pegs. Why? “Roman J. Israel Esq.” is a character study. The audience gets the opportunity to examine the psyche of a man who appears different and is quite different from the rest of the world. The goal of the film is to make the audience question issues pertaining to morality, ethics, and right-and-wrong in America, while doing their best to decipher what causes Roman to tick and react.
If you’re looking to watch a veteran actor do what he does best, look no further than “Roman J. Israel Esq.,” as it’s absolutely fantastic to watch such a complex character unfold. However, if you are looking for a narrative to deliver a tale that is just as gripping as its title character, you will not find that here. This is a smart movie, but it falters in bringing together a level of cohesion that works on all cylinders.