There are few constants in the universe save for death and taxes one of the other constants in my eyes is that Denzel Washington will never give a bad performance regardless of the film he is in. This brings me to his latest film Roman J. Israel, Esq. which follows the character of Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Washington) as he tries to do the right thing in a world fuelled by wrong actions. As the film opens the audience meets Roman at an impasse late in his life he works at a law firm and unfortunately, his long-term partner in the law firm has a heart attack and due to this the company crumbles around Roman. This sets in motion a chain of events that changes Roman’s life over the span of three weeks.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is sadly one of the safest films in the Oscar net right now, is Washington Oscar-worthy in his role? In my opinion yes, unfortunately, the film surrounding him is off-kilter, over the top, overly dramatic and at times downright amateurish in its execution. The film is 2 hours long and in this runtime, there is not nearly enough available to explore the supporting cast of characters orbiting Roman to give the world he lives in a more authentic element. There is also another conflicting issue the film at one point decides to flip the plot and the character of Roman on their collective heads and if you happen to be having a toilet break you will come back into the film scratching your head. I know this for a fact because it happened to several people in the audience and they had to ask me after the film was over how the plot took a 180 degree flip an hour in.
This inconsistency is not just in the plot it is also amongst the characters, Roman is an introvert who’s letter of law attitude does not ingratiate him well to others until the film requires Denzel to be as smooth as possible. There is also the 180 degree flip in his character that changes the film from a character piece to an after-school special that teaches people to be better. There is also Colin Farrell’s character George Pierce who comes across as the antagonist of the film when he is introduced who decides to become a nicer individual simply for the hell of it when the film decides that Roman has become an awful individual and he needs good people around him to remind him how to become decent again. Unfortunately, the cast around him for the majority of the film is shown to be morally absent so when they have these moments of transformation it just doesn’t come across as genuine as director Dan Gilroy had hoped.
I feel conflicted with Roman J. Israel, Esq. as I did with Will Smith’s film Collateral, Denzel is brilliant in this role giving a surprisingly emotional performance that at times will bring you to tears, unfortunately, the film around him is nothing exceptional and is sadly forgettable with the most memorable element being the title.