Thursday, December 7, 2017

[Review] Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The great Denzel Washington stars in Roman J. Israel, Esq. (there's a lot of punctuation in that title), a steadfast character study and litigation drama that never quite rises above its courtroom constraints.

Roman Israel (Washington) is a devoted defense attorney and activist with a grassroots past. In order to keep his career afloat, he joins a big-time law firm led by one of his former students (played solidly by Colin Farrell). From there, his values are greatly tested when he takes on the messy case of a murdered store clerk.

To no one's surprise, Denzel Washington is excellent here (seriously, would you expect anything less?), playing a character that is as quippy and sharp as he is vulnerable and conflicted. That said, the role is never as hard-hitting as his Oscar-nominated performance in last year's Fences. In fact, I would have liked to known a lot more about this character, but unfortunately the film's oblong pacing, wordy and procedural disposition (there's a lot of typing and talking on the phone), episodic story turns, and lack of narrative momentum hinders us from ever gaining a deeper understanding of Roman Israel beyond the surface.

An intriguing twist pops out of the briefcase in the last act, throwing a major dilemma at our protagonist, but by that time, it just feels too late -- like this is the moment when the film should just be getting started. And the abrupt ending attempts to provoke some emotion, but it comes off more as an unsatisfactory head-scratcher. All of this leads me to believe that this film probably would've worked well as a TV series instead of a two-hour portrait -- just look at "Better Call Saul"!

( 6/10 )

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