Denzel Washington is a talented actor by any meaningful metric. Most of his films are both entertaining and critically well-received. However, almost every character he plays feels like a variant of the same person. Despite the fact that Washington has only ever done one sequel (The Equalizer 2, which is currently filming), many of his characters feel like slightly different shades of one another. That’s not to say these characters aren’t enjoyable or entertaining to watch, but you generally know what you’re getting into when you go see a new Denzel Washington film. That idea goes out the window with his latest film, so sit back and let’s take a closer look at our Roman J. Israel, Esq. review.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Looking at his filmography, with credits such as Kong: Skull Island and Real Steel, it’s no surprise that Roman J. Israel, Esq. feels very by-the-book and generally uninspired. The story of Roman J. Israel, Esq. does not offer any kind of a surprise to anyone who has seen movies of this type. Even when the film tries to throw in a twist, most of the audience will have predicted it long before. It’s the only real flaw in the film, but it’s enough to knock it down to just an average movie, despite one of the best performances of Washington’s career.
The film centers around the titular character, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington). He’s a defense attorney who acts more like Sheldon Cooper than the usual hot shot lawyers you see in other films. He has extreme levels of social awkwardness, but throughout most of his career, his partner was the public eye of the law firm, while Israel handed a bulk of the work behind the scenes. When his partner has a heart attack, Israel is forced into a world he’s not equipped to deal with. His adaptation to this world is the main crux of the film.
Helping to bring Israel into the modern world is George Pierce (Colin Farrell), the head of another law firm where Israel lands after his partner ends up in the hospital. I’m not a fan of Colin Farrell in most movies, but in the role of George Pierce, he was everything I would expect from a big-time Los Angeles lawyer. Normally that would be a good thing, but in a film where everything is predictable, it was just par for the course.
While the film didn’t offer any real surprises, the character of Roman J. Israel, Esq. gave Denzel Washington a chance to really show off his acting chops. No one would argue Washington’s acting expertise, but the social awkwardness of Israel allowed Washington to really run with it and truly bring the character to life in ways we haven’t seen from him since early in his career. You’ll laugh and cringe as Israel interacts with people, and no matter what you think of the film, Washington’s portrayal of Israel is a definitive highlight.