Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo
“Each of us is better than the worst thing we ever did.”
When your career has spanned more than thirty years it can become difficult to find new ways to invent yourself. Yet in Roman J. Israel – Denzel more than finds a way. If you thought you had seen the depths and the range of Denzels acting abilities then you need to go see this film.
Set in Los Angeles Roman J. Israel (Denzel ‘we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock’ Washington) is a bit of an odd guy. He is the behind the scenes partner to a low level law firm. Behind the scenes because he’s a bit on the socially awkward side. He’s a bit of a savant with how brilliantly he knows the law and can remember cases. Speaking to others just doesn’t seem to be his strong suit.
The film tragically begins with the death of Israels partner. Israel is left without a job and a very soft referral to a very high powered law firm run by George Pierce (Colin ‘I almost ruined my career because of profanity’ Farrell), an associate of Israels former partner. Israel turns down the big money firm to keep pushing more pro-bono style and hands-on difference making legal causes. He is able to make an impression at a few places before realizing his bills need to be paid and the best/only way to do so is to join the large legal firm.
Once on board he impresses the clients very quickly. His personable nature, although socially awkward and unorthodox at times, resonates with the clients stronger than what they thought they would get from this large firm. His mannerisms unfortunately don’t exactly play well with his co-workers or the operating procedures of the firm. He struggles to gain acceptance throughout the firm and buries himself in his cases.
The film kind of meanders along. There isn’t a deep case that any of the lawyers dive into that drives the storyline. The biggest part involving the cases is a loophole in one of them that Israel finds which will test his moral compass towards financial gain or not. The development of any characters is minimal. Israels charm is that he is true to who is from start to finish, even as major life changes occur around him. The side characters of George Pierce and Maya Alston (Carmen ‘sneaky good looking’ Ejogo) have changes of heart by films end, but nothing overtly grandiose to effect the overall storyline.
What you’ll remember from this film will be Denzel. How many times has that sentence been written over the years? Denzel breaks as far away from any other character he has ever played before. Timid, disheveled, socially awkward and lacking the amounts of confidence that Denzel usually portrays in his films describes the character of Roman J. Israel. He is nothing like what you would expect from Denzel and it is extremely refreshing. I never doubted that Denzel would have this range, but to see it on full display was a delight.
Before seeing this film, on DVD I might add, I want you to think of all of Denzels strong characters he has played. All the times he has been that Type-A personality that owns every room he enters and emits a never ending cool. Then watch this film and appreciate the choices he made as an actor that go against all those previous characters.
Overall the film pleasantly surprised me and more than holds your attention for the two hours. Wait until home viewing is an option, but do not miss out on this one.
6.5 out of 10