Roman J. Israel, Esq.

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Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Runtime 129 minutes.
PG-13

I’m not quite sure what the point of this movie is. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, it stars Denzel Washington who is in almost every scene. He plays an attorney who has never tried a case but has been more of a paralegal for his boss—a criminal defense attorney—researching and drafting pleadings but never appearing in court. When his boss dies he is thrust into the role of trial attorney, something for which he is clearly not cut out.

He doesn’t have much money but he muddles along (like this movie), burdened by a stark sense of right and wrong. When he strays over that line everything goes awry.

This movie really drags along until he crosses the line, maybe halfway through the film, after which it picks up some tension. But it still can’t find its raison d’être.

Washington gives a performance that could be called adequate by some in an unusual role for a leading man but he’s helped along by a fine performance by Colin Farrell, a typical sleazy three-piece suit managing partner of his own firm of lawyers who knows how to make money out of this type of practice. Farrell at least knows his character and portrays it extremely well at first. Unfortunately, Gilroy gives him a change of heart midway through the film that is inexplicable and completely out of character, as are, incidentally, the Roman J. Israel’s actions.

This is the kind of film where you sit through it wondering why it’s meandering on so long and come out of it disappointed and questioning why it was made and why you went to see it. Apparently it was recut after initial showings at film festivals that drew negative comments. If this is the best Gilroy could do, I’m glad I didn’t have to see it before he made the changes.

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