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Review: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Denzel Washington stars in Columbia Pictures' ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ.

A host of people become interested whenever Denzel Washington comes out with a movie. He’s one of the better actors of our time, so it’s easy to understand why that’s the feeling among many. I’m sure there were plenty of people who had the same reaction with Roman J. Israel, Esq. And while that may be the case, the response they may have to the actual movie may not be the same it’s either unfinished or simply poorly done.

As Roman J. Israel, Denzel Washington portrays a man who has his thoughts on life shattered by a series of events brought on by the sudden illness of his partner at the firm he’s been a part of for decades. This run of unfortunate circumstances challenge who he is and what he stands for in a way question every part of his being. As that occurs, he begins to look at it all differently and decides that maybe it’s best to alter his approach to life in a way that could redefine his career and the way he’s seen by all who know him.

From the start, I found myself liking Washington’s enigmatic character. He’s the kind of person with quirky attributes as well as someone who is full of purpose while having idealistic values at heart. It’s something that people in real life could admire even if they acknowledge that some of his views on life aren’t exactly realistic. Because of this, following him for an entire film is actually something one could look forward to.

Now, what that particular story is about would obviously be up to the people putting it all together. And when examining him as a character and the environment that surrounds him, Roman J. Israel is the kind of person that you can build a multitude of stories around. That’s why it’s so hard for me to understand how they settled on the film that we actually end up with.

As you watch, you’ll come to realize that they don’t use anything that could tell a great tale. There are periods where we get some compelling things going on, but these plot points aren’t as intriguing as they could be simply because they aren’t focused on that much by the filmmaker. Instead, we spend large chunks of time following Israel around while he isn’t doing much. Usually, you get an idea of what a movie is about in the first act, but that doesn’t happen here.

I spent this period of time waiting to see when we were going to be presented with something that would explain why Roman J. Israel, Esq. was even made. After a while, the film moves on to other scenes and introduces more characters while never really settling on an actual story. During this time, we’re learning more about these people in what I’m assuming is going to be a chance to see how all of them fit into what’s about to be presented to us, but I found myself still waiting after a while.

At some point, I guess I should have simply given up and assumed that nothing was going to actually happen in that sense. It would have been a reasonable thing to do. However, something resembling a story did finally enter into the movie but by then, there wasn’t much time left. This starts at close to about an hour and a half into the picture. We get a pivotal plot point that gives us something to hang on to, but it’s only here to get us into the third act. Not only does it come too late, it also feels out of place based on how everything that came before it was handled.

From watching this and thinking about it for a few seconds, it’s obvious that Dan Gilroy and the rest of his team didn’t know exactly where to go with what they had in front of them. This also explains why the trailer that I watched was so vague and pointless. They couldn’t tell you what was going on because you would end up waiting for that stuff to actually begin to take shape. This would likely only lead to a lot of people being angry after growing impatient as they begin to realize what they were getting.

The worse part about this is that once we finally have a story, what’s here is actually not bad at all. It’s just unfortunate that they wasted so much time beforehand. Watching Denzel do what he does is never a bad thing, but even he needs to have some kind of goal for his character to achieve. Here, he’s just walking around the city at times where they could have been given us something to engage at earlier stages. Because they chose not to do that, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is nothing more than a missed opportunity.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Dan Gilroy

Denzel Washington
Colin Farrell
Joseph David-Jones
Carmen Ejogo
DeRon Horton

Film Length: 122 minutes

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

  • Score - 5/10
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