Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Movie with Abe: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Released November 17, 2017

The law is a complicated and massive thing, meant to cover so many different areas and to address both issues that have arisen and needed to be dealt with and those that could theoretically come to occur. There is a reason that volumes upon volumes of legal books exist, since to remember it all or even it know it all is an unfathomable task. To live a life bound by true adherence to every law is equally arduous, and to do so requires a distancing from society, where certain compromises are made on a regular basis to find a balance between free will and legal structure.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is the rare person who does embody the letter of the law. He has worked in the same law office for over thirty years preparing all the legal paperwork for the man he calls his partner, and his style hasn’t aged much in that time, defined by unkempt hair, old headphones, a brick-like iPod, and a flip phone in the age of Uber. He keeps track of cases on index cards and in his remarkable memory, and that system is horribly disrupted when his partner has a heart attack and he makes a move to a corporate environment run by George Pierce (Colin Farrell) that is just as unready for him as he is for it.

Washington is a formidable actor with seven Oscar nominations and two trophies, and it’s rare to see him give anything less than a top-notch turn. For all this film’s other faults, Washington makes you believe that a man like Roman could actually exist. He refuses to let up in conversation with anyone who tries to skirt even the minutest element of the law, angering those who feel like they have no time for him and inspiring others like civil rights advocate Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo), who is initially puzzled and put off by him but come to understand his unique contribution to the world. It’s far from his best performance but still a solid turn.

As a character, Roman is undeniably interesting, as is seeing Washington look considerably more disheveled than he usually does, but this film also feels disheveled. There are holes in Roman’s history and the way that he transforms that are never addressed, and much of the dialogue comes off as less than genuine. The introduction of the story as a typed legal brief fails to achieve the impact it desires. This represents a strange pivot for director Dan Gilroy, whose first film, “Nightcrawler,” was infinitely darker but also focused on a character who was fascinating but whose behavior and experiences didn’t seem completely convincing.


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