Denzel Washington sheds his signature GQ looks and charismatic smile for a different role were not used to from the actor playing the title character in Director Dan Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel, ESQ. Washington plays Roman, a brilliant lawyer that doesn’t actually try cases due to his lack of people skills. It’s never discussed in the film, but it’s obvious Roman is a type of savant who could be living on the spectrum. He’s weird, rude and has an incredible memory which is the reason he keeps himself employed despite his inability to politely communicate with his peers.
Roman J. Israel, ESQ. was full of potential with the unique role taken on by two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, but unfortunately the film has no idea what it wants to be about in terms of story. As an audience member, you are stuck in your seats waiting for something significant to happen with this odd character, but the film never ever takes off in one direction in terms of storytelling. The movie is quite boring with nothing interesting occurring until the last thirty minutes of the movie and even when the pace finally does picks up the conclusion is very lackluster.
The lack of character depth is also a huge problem in Roman J. Israel, ESQ. Talented actors like Washington and Collin Farrell who plays Roman’s new boss can’t overcome the poor direction from Dan Gilroy and awful screenplay. The actors on-screen are left with nothing to work with in terms of a script to provide background and growth for the players involved in this legal character study. Roman is an odd character with undefined motivations, which makes him a hard character to get behind. You have to have motives and an interesting figure to follow in a character study like this, but Roman J. Israel, ESQ. has none of that making it a rare stumble for Denzel Washington. The film may have seemed like a winner on paper, but the final product is not worth rooting for.
Overall, I give Roman J. Israel, ESQ. 2 out of 4 stars.
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