I have just watched Roman J. Israel, Esq., a 2017 movie directed by Dan Gilroy, who became famous thanks to his debut Nightcrawler in 2014. Since the Nightcrawler DVD is still sitting in front of me without me having been able to watch it for a few months, now, today I’m writing about his second film!
Roman J. Israel (esquire: “more than sir, less than knight”) is the name of the character played by Denzel Washington, the absolute protagonist of the film. The other two roles of some importance are in the hands of the excellent Colin Farrell and the beautiful Carmen Ejogo, but we can almost consider the entire film as a monologue by Denzel Washington. And does this two-hour monologue deserve to be seen? My humble opinion is that no, it doesn’t. Let me explain.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a sort of Flight (the 2012 film directed by Robert Zemeckis) but without the rhythm of the latter and with an equally unsatisfactory ending. The first half of the movie, and maybe even more, presents the protagonist: an idealist lawyer with 36 years of experience, who has always worked hard for the poor members of the society but has never enjoyed recognition for his contribution. Then one day he takes advantage of a chance to make a lot of money illegally, he does so, he enjoys his money for a couple of days, and immediately regrets what he did. This plot can be summarized with a single word: predictable.
Sadly, at no point was this movie able to surprise me. And this is a problem because I got bored! Slow, verbose, linear and predictable… I wasn’t impressed by this movie. And not for the lack of interesting themes! The movie deals with the US legal system, with idealism, with the compromises in today’s society, with honesty… For example, the character of Colin Farrell has a arc: determined to succeed with his career, motivated in his studies by an idealist professor, the meeting with Israel “enlightens” him and pushes him to do some good first, then a little more, and finally to take up the most important legal battle of Israel’s entire life. And this makes us think about what’s acceptable and what’s not: is it okay to “sell your soul to the devil” and then redeem yourself later? Or is it better to live a righteous and honest life and to resist forever the temptations of vile money and corruption?
The problem is that the movie does not give us great answers, and those that it gives us seem to me a bit too easy and conciliatory with the American dream of making money (even if you use a little bit to do good) to be stimulating. Even the critique of the US legal system which always condemns the poor people is only sketched.
And the two-hours length doesn’t help! Thank goodness the soundtrack is phenomenal: groovy, funky, it’s really well-thought! Here is the list of songs, if you are curious about it. My suggestion? Listen to the soundtrack and skip the movie… Ciao!