Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
May 5, 2018 11:27 AM - Subscribe

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.
posted by ellieBOA (1 comment total)
 
This movie didn't work for me. It didn't feel like a character portrait really, because it's so plot driven. But the plot is.. not great.

Roman is the problematic keeper of a righteous flame. He used to carry it with his legal partner but now he's alone and not sure what to do. He starts fucking up. He sins against the flame -- he sells out -- and so he becomes unworthy of carrying it anymore. (Or maybe he realizes he's not worthy to carry the flame on his own, and so he sells out too, because he just really wants a maple bacon doughnut.) He's no good as a sell-out either, which he knows, but, before he can figure it all out, the consequences of his sin come calling. Confronted by discovery, he loses his mind, and then is killed by a gang member for a very tenuous thread of reasons. Fortunately, the flame is a physical object, an actual briefcase full of class action lawsuits that will fix the entire justice system, and when Roman drops it Colin Farrell (who has existed as a vague sketch of a douchebag lawyer who thinks maybe flames could be monetized so win/win) is right there to pick it up and file the cases, roll credits. Roman's friend Maya, a sin-free professional flame-carrier looking for a flame herself, gets a porcelain bulldog.

The messy problematic side of Roman isn't very believable, but I think the film is not actually interested in his mental state much; it is whatever it needs to be. I'd even say the film wants to paint Roman as a tragic and flawed figure, but it's scared to make the viewer dislike him. That ca't really work, so as a result the only time Roman seems to mess up is by being TOO MUCH of a righteous badass. The stuttering and social anxiety can wait for when he gets asked out on a date by Maya, who is infinitely understanding and caring, so it doesn't matter. It might have worked better with someone less likable/handsome/charismatic than Denzel Washington playing Roman. It's a little like seeing Robert Redford portray Ignatius J. Reilly.

Maya is the weakest part of the film. She inexplicably falls for Roman, never criticizes him, and exists only to comfort him and to receive his wisdom, thus undercutting however problematic he's supposed to be. Roman and the movie have no interest in her whatsoever. Also she invites Roman to speak to her activism group, but Roman almost immediately crashes and burns because some women in the group reject his chivalry when he tries to shame some men into giving up their seats for them. It's played as a "kids today w/ their gender stuff amirite" moment, or maybe a "Roman is from a more sexist time" moment but like... he was a huge activist, I guess they didn't have feminism back in the 70s?

And as an example of how this movie can't really make its drama add up: After Roman walks out in the middle of his talk with Maya's group, Maya follows him. She isn't mad at all. They see a homeless person face down on the sidewalk and investigate. Roman checks him over pretty thoroughly and doesn't feel any pulse or find any ID or anything. The cops arrive and Roman tells them the guy is dead. They say they'll take care of it, and not to touch the body. Roman leans down to put his business card in the pocket of the dead man. The cop is like, "Uh, did you hear what I just said?! Pick it up". Roman says no, he doesn't want this guy to die as some nobody, cremated in a mass grave or whatever, and he'll take care of the funeral. The cop is having none of it and says pick it up, with a hand on her gun! Roman's gonna keep insisting... Oh no, what is going to happen???? The homeless man stands up, not dead, and dodders off. The cops shrug and leave. Maya is impressed with Roman. She will also remain incredibly impressed with the 45 seconds of the talk he started to give.
posted by fleacircus at 3:23 AM on July 29, 2018


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