Washington stars as Roman J. Israel, Esq.‘s namesake, a longtime crusading defense lawyer who finds himself in a bad place after years of fighting for noble, if sometimes lost, causes. Enter Colin Farrell as a cutthroat lawyer who hires Roman to work for his firm, when the latter suddenly finds himself in need of employment. In the underbelly of the Los Angeles criminal court system, however, nothing is simple and soon Roman is caught up in a crisis that “leads to extreme action” (as the official synopsis for Roman J. Israel, Esq. enigmatically puts it).
The official trailer for Roman J. Israel, Esq. (see the video above) doesn’t shed much more light on the film’s narrative machinations beyond that. Instead, the trailer sticks to the broad strokes of the movie’s plot and focuses more on Washington’s commanding performance as Mr. Israel himself. Gilroy, when he spoke to EW about the film, admitted that he wrote the character of Roman J. Israel specifically with Washington in mind to play him:
“Roman is defined by his belief in something greater than himself. He’s a man of faith. He has this common, universal humanity to him that he believes. Denzel, if you research Denzel, he’s literally a man of faith. So it was never going to be hard for the audience to buy into the idea that the actor playing the part believes in the things Roman is doing. I think one of the reasons why Denzel dissolves into the character is because they’re so close to each other in so many ways. Denzel embodies the idea of a man living his life on terms that are based on a cause – going toward something. That’s why I really wrote it for him.”
Roman J. Israel, Esq. premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (which was held back in September) to an overall mixed critical reception, as evidenced by its current 53% Rating (after 19 reviews) on Rotten Tomatoes. While critics thus far seem to agree that Washington is compelling as ever as the movie’s namesake, Roman J. Israel, Esq. itself has been criticized for being something of a mixed bag of ideas that never come together to form a cohesive whole. The same could be said for the film’s trailer, which struggles to make it clear if Roman J. Israel, Esq. is more of a drama or a dramatic thriller.
Whereas awards season hopefuls like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and James Franco’s The Disaster Artist earned raves during their film festival appearances, Roman J. Israel Esq. has lost some of its forward momentum following its TIFF showing. Things might yet turn around for the film, assuming that the larger critical and audience reception is more enthusiastic than the first wave of reviews. For now, however, it’s looking less likely that Washington will find himself back in the Best Actor Oscar race yet again this year.
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