Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo
Director: Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 122 mins
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is an American film about a defense lawyer with strong principles who finds himself fighting against injustice in society and in the law profession, struggling to cope with the pressure that his activism brings.
A frustratingly imperfect legal drama that aims high but achieves little, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is far from the inspiring, insightful and challenging film it hopes to be. It may have an excellent central performance from Denzel Washington, but the film lacks real emotional resonance, and takes a rather convoluted path through an overlong story.
On the bright side, the film’s message about both the importance and the perils of activism is really strong. Centring on an idealistic and driven lawyer who always champions those facing injustice in court, Roman J. Israel is an inspiring lead, and his almost undying commitment to the cause he cares so much for is really wonderful to see.
However, what’s even more impressive about the film is the way that it looks at the other side of the coin. Many films are able to talk about the inspiring side of activism, but the most unique thing about this movie is how it reflects on the personal consequences of a committed fight and what happens when a seemingly undying passion begins to waiver.
That comes to a head towards the final act of the film, and proves both the most interesting and emotionally resonant theme it touches on. Its opening act is inspiring on a superficial level, but it’s the unique yet realistic perspective the film gives on this topic that really impresses.
The other big positive here comes in the form of the central performance from Denzel Washington. Entirely convincing in portraying the passion of his character throughout, Washington is captivating in the lead role, impressing hugely with an idiosyncratic turn that’s neither comically exaggerated nor overly understated.
He’s likeable and memorable throughout, and though many of his co-stars fail to capture the imagination in similar fashion, Washington carries this movie for a large part of the runtime.
The problem with Roman J. Israel, Esq. is that it’s a legal drama without much gripping drama, or even much in the way of good legal intrigue. With the exception of the above, the way the film handles the emotional struggles of its main character and the plights of many of the supporting players is lacking, and becomes lost in the midst of an unnecessarily convoluted screenplay.
Struggling to find its identity as an emotional drama, a legal drama or even a crime thriller, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is all over the space from start to finish. And with a wobbly pace and a lack of the sleek style that this legal drama would have benefitted from hugely, it’s really difficult to get into the movie at any point during its rather overlong two-hour runtime.
As a result, despite a few bright sparks in the form of a unique dramatic focus and an excellent lead performance from Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a bit of a mixed bag. Lacking the emotional resonance, the sleek style and the consistent dramatic depth to really grab your attention, the film is an often frustrating watch, and fails to live up to its high aims of being an inspirational, touching and thrilling film. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0 overall.