Also checked out the new Denzel Washington legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. Or, at least I think it’s a legal drama. Maybe it’s a light comedy. Or maybe it’s not about the law so much as it’s about victim’s rights or the crooked legal system or about selling one’s soul… or something. It’s definitely got Denzel Washington though!
The film stars Denzel as the titular Roman J. Israel, a silent “behind the scenes” partner in a small legal defense law office. His partner, the one who loves the court room, suffers a heart attack and he (Roman) must take over as the firm’s faceman. Unfortunately, Roman seems to be somewhere on the spectrum and is very bad at dealing with people and has no interest or patience in the court room. Soon the law office is closed and he faces finding a new job in his sixties.
This movie is largely about the character and it wanders around a lot trying to find a point or a purpose for him. Denzel Washington knocks it out of the park in his characterization… I ceased seeing Denzel, movie star, and saw Roman J. Israel instead and that’s a real credit to his performance. But I’m afraid I never could quite “get” what the movie was about. Sometimes it seems to want to shout and rage at the legal system, sometimes its about the character selling his soul to a large legal firm, and sometimes its a John Grisham legal potboiler.
It’s certainly about the main character though and, as I said, the performance is great. I think that if it had been more focused on one or two things this character does instead of casting a wide net, the movie would have been pretty great. As is, it’s tolerable and occasionally enjoyable. Good performance saves it as much as it can.