The legendary Denzel Washington is associated with so many legendary roles that will forever live in the hearts of millions. And like many people, when I see he a movie of his about to release, I get excited I’m in store for another masterpiece. Enter Roman J. Israel Esq, a movie that from the trailers, held potential to be an interesting biography of a powerful legal, pro-action character that was certain to stir up trouble. Will it be powerfully emotional to fill your eyes to the brim with tears, or something else? Robbie K here to give you some insight into yet another movie this holiday season, let’s get started.
The Message: Never say that a Denzel movie doesn’t deliver a powerful punch in the emotional level. Roman J. Israel Esq, is another visual tribute to the topic of truth, honor, and the moral obligations of justice. The whole movie portrays the struggle of holding on to your beliefs vs. diving into the acceptable flow the public/society deems normal. We all have breaking points that push us into new areas and test our fortitude, the question is where does one cross the line and how far do they leap over it. Roman’s tale shows the challenge quite well and more so what can happen when pushes the boundaries too far. It will get you thinking and perhaps question your own philosophies, assuming you can get past the other parts of this movie.
The Acting…kind of: Denzel still has his acting skills down pat. He portrays the awkward character quite well, capturing the serious thoughts, the quirky mannerisms, and even the speech patterns necessary for portraying the mind within. Even more impressive though, is how well he acts out the struggles of the high stakes choices that bear heavy on his mind. At times, one can feel the weight of the decisions bearing down on them, the anxiety of making the wrong choice radiating out in the sequences. His supporting cast helps open up more dilemmas to tax him, but can’t say they have the most involvement in the town.
The Music: The soundtrack is not the most toe tapping number, but one can appreciate the soul behind the songs selected for this movie. There selections were choice representations of the tone of the scene, sort of artistically symbolizing Rowan’s mood and his answer to the current obstacles that plague him. It’s a dynamic track list that constantly changes between genres, and fits so well into much of the movie, while perhaps bringing back some nostalgia for other fans.
The weaker character moments: Despite all the quarks Denzel got, his character isn’t the most engaging or magical of the roles he has played. Past the morals he boasts, Roman just doesn’t have a lot to him. He was a fairly flat character, with disinterest seeming to ooze from Denzel during much of the performance, almost like he had to really push himself to play the part. I had a hard time caring about him, the potential the trailers building failing to live up as Roman continued to just shrug more and more of the qualities I looked for. A redeeming moment at the end got the steam going, but by then it was too late and the movie was over. It also doesn’t help that the supporting character actors don’t seem too excited in their roles, and are just as mundane as some of Roman’s personality. The characters just aren’t engaged in the tale, and many aren’t utilized to their full potential.
Boring: The emotional trials are strong, the food for thought even more of a rewarding experience, but did the movie have to be so dull? While I never expected this film to be an action packed, guns blazing tale, I certainly didn’t expect the movie to lack so much suspense. The plot didn’t have enough edge, there wasn’t enough action or peaceful protest, and the absence of any real villain just led to a very lackluster tale. I had to fight sleep a couple of times in this movie, though it could be due to the long work day, but a Denzel Movie is usually more charged than what I was presented. Which brings me to my next dislike…
Ambiguous: The movie’s biggest problem for me was how aimless the plot was. The writers didn’t seem to figure out which way they wanted to take the film, is a piece about being an activist, is it a biography, is it a crime/drama? I couldn’t quite figure out the myself, but they settled on a little bit of everything, but didn’t hit the high-quality components of the genres. The film could have used more crime/mystery to add the suspense, perhaps with a theme surrounding the hot political issues they try to cover, all showing the skills of the whomever Roman represented. I don’t fell many will enjoy the approach they took, and the ambiguous story telling that was just stale and sad than anything else.
It held such potential, but Roman Israel Esq, just couldn’t find its ground in the grand scheme of things. Denzel tried to do the heavy lifting, and accomplishes the messages of balancing morals, but outside of that lacks any big sustenance to him. In addition, the boring pace, weaker character interactions, and ambiguous plots, the movie just fails to provide the very justice it wanted to serve. Sad to see the legendary actor have a weaker film, but this reviewer encourages you to skip this movie and focus on the treasures that have already come out for your theater viewing pleasure, all while hoping Denzel will have another Oscar worthy film in the future.
Movie Overall: 5.0