Roman J Israel Esq - This Film Of Two Halves Does Not Rock
Dir: Dan Gilroy
Starring, Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo
Roman J Israel Esq is a deeply frustrating movie. After a mixed reaction to its first screening back at the Toronto fest, director Gilroy and star Washington apparently holed up, reworked and re-edited the movie. Hard to imagine what they did to improve on that initial reaction, as what remains now is a deeply flawed and subsequently deeply disappointing film, given that it comes from the maker of Nightcrawler and stars the man who is just about cinema’s greatest living screen actor.
What remains is a film of two halves. And the first half is good. Washington is the Asperger’s-esque, Afro’d savant of a titular lawyer, who works behind the scenes at his law firm, a beautiful mind none too happy about standing up in court. Which works just fine for him until his mentor dies and Roman is forced out into the real world – which in this case means going to work for Colin Farrell’s super-successful big time attorney, who sees a means of making the most of Roman’s clear gifts. If only the remainder of the film could manage the same.
What follows is an ill-judged look at the corruption of the “innocent” Israel, as he betrays his long held principals to break a trust and collect a large reward, the money (along with his work with Farrell) being seen here as Roman’s adjustment to the real world, something he had previously been shielded from, or, indeed, shied away from. It’s a very clumsy ideological argument to make well and Gilroy singularly fails to do so. Washington also stumbles badly in the second half of the movie, taking his initially difficult character and turning him into someone almost completely unsympathetic. None of this is helped by the addition of Ejogo as a completely unbelievable and out of place love interest.
Full marks to Washington and Gilroy for trying to save their film after its initial disappointment. But save it they do not.
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