I am one of the many that love the work of Mr. Denzel Washington, he is one of the greats. Denzel's resume of performances speaks for itself and this review will only highlight that. With that being said, I am left with mixed feelings about the film Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) and here is why.
Writer and Director Dan Gilroy does a great job with the complexity of the lead character Roman J. Israel. Everything is in place: the strong lead, the catalysts that motivate his actions, the great tortured mind, the tragedy of this great mind, it all works. Gilroy even states in a recent interview that he wrote this role specifically for Denzel. He goes on to say that "...if Denzel could not play the role he would've put the film on the shelf."
Roman J. Israel, Esq, . (2017)
Without question, Denzel delivers as always but, I will say that it feels as though he is a bit on auto-pilot with this performance. As an excellent performer, it felt like Denzel performing more than Denzel becoming lost in that role. Based on a recent interview I saw, Denzel even believes in and cares about this character. Israel is a somewhat tragic figure that we want to sympathize with but, the connection does not get fully made with the audience in my opinion. Is it how the character communicates with the world around him? Is he of clear mind in his actions or does he allow himself to become compromised and only in the end comes to terms his transgression?
The complexity of the themes in Israel will be something you'd need to view and rationalize after the credits role. I am all for, being the change one wants to see or not letting the American Judicial system corrupt ones own ideas of what true civil justice is; however, Roman treads in deep ideas and thought processes without the audience really getting to know him the way we deserve to.
I want to believe in the character and the performance but Roman J. Israel was a hard sale at certain points in the film where a potential emotional connection eventually stalls out.