Roman J. Israel, Esq. Screen 7 articles

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq. Poster
  • Just for starters, there’s a typically studied, finely calibrated performance from Washington, evocative use of downtown Los Angeles locations, a magnificent soundtrack of vintage funk and soul and a pleasingly retro use of punctuation in its title. Unfortunately, something at the center just doesn’t hold, and it flies apart into confusing shards of plot, legalese-heavy monologues and, perhaps most surprising of all given Gilroy’s bona fides, a touch of soggy sentimentality in the home stretch.

  • A rare bad performance from Denzel Washington sinks Roman J. Israel, Esq... Elswit returns for Roman J. Israel, but this time—with the exception of an interlude at and around the Santa Monica pier—the city feels like an anonymous Anywhere, U.S.A. And so Washington's ill-conceived character stands out like a sore thumb, the shallow center of Gilroy's unfortunate sophomore slump.

  • It is downright fascinating watching Washington’s demonstrative style of acting turned inward as he dons schlub drag to play a principled nerd who, for no persuasive reason in the script, abruptly drops those principles in rather cruel fashion. After the film (which is slated to open later this fall), Washington displayed a strange humility before bombastic onstage questioning, with Gilroy gung-ho while emphasizing the star’s role in postproduction.

  • Gilroy's screenplay undermines his character study of a man selling his soul for material comforts by failing to convincingly blend it together with the elements of a legal thriller. Not only is Pierce far from the slick, heartless shyster that Israel sees him as, but the latter's new job actually allows him to continue standing up for the poor . . . Throughout the film, it's almost like Washington and Gilroy have two completely opposing and irreconcilable visions of who Israel is supposed to be.

  • Washington is playing somebody so brilliant that he can barely pass for normal. It’s a very weird performance, and it verges at times on giddy embarrassment, which is actually sort of exciting. The movie’s main sources of suspense are whether it’s ever going to settle on a genre and if its star is going to fully implode while trying to hold things together. He doesn’t, but it’s hard to hold it against him: He’s doing the best he can under the circumstances.

  • Gilroy truncates and stifles a fascinating character in order to keep the story moving relentlessly forward on a narrow track of synthetic action. For that matter, the very casting of Washington suggests Gilroy’s fundamental misdirection: for the character of Roman J. Israel, not even an actor as great as Washington could suffice; what Gilroy needed was an energumen, someone on the order of Eddie Murphy, someone whose energy threatens to break out of the stultifying script at every moment.

  • Washington tops himself as the title character. With understated brilliance and apparently effortless empathy, he portrays a legal genius, visionary reformer, and social misfit who has masterminded briefs and courtroom strategies . . . In the hands of Gilroy, Israel’s predicament dramatizes dizzying changes in liberal and radical attitudes and discourse over the last four or five decades. And it does so with a continually surprising mix of realism and idealism, wised-up comedy and pathos.

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