FlixChatter Review: Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

Denzel Washington is at the top of his game in the new movie Roman J. Israel, Esq. from writer/director Dan Gilroy. Having seen and been impressed by Gilroy’s 2014 debut film Nightcrawler (with Jake Gyllenhaal), I was curious what the director had in store for us.

This film starts out slow, with Roman (Washington)’s firm in crisis as his law partner dies after suffering a heart attack. Roman’s left picking up the pieces and tying up loose ends in court – something he had not previously done before as he was the behind-the-scenes attorney at the small firm. His (what should have been) normally routine court appearances are a disaster; his tendency to blurt out what he perceives as the truth gets him held in contempt by a less-than-understanding and impatient judge. Without a job and out of luck, Roman (sporting his trademark ‘70s Afro hairstyle) walks the streets of Los Angeles, lugging around a huge briefcase filled with his lifelong passion project. What we eventually learn is that that he hopes to file a brief to bring about a class action lawsuit that will change the justice system for African American sentencing and those already incarcerated.

Roman interviews at a nonprofit run by Maya (played by Carmen Ejogo), but instead of finding a job, he gains an ally in Maya. She is not in the same mindset as her younger staff at the nonprofit are – that Roman is like something from another time that is outdated and out of the current mainstream. Maya believes that Roman should be respected and listed to. They end up developing a personal connection and she calls him to ask him out on a date, even though the talk he gave to some young students at her nonprofit doesn’t go very well.

Roman finds a job at George (Colin Farrell)’s firm, where George acts more like a legal shark, putting profits ahead of people. Roman does gain some valuable mentorship from George, who sees Roman’s scholarly ability to memorize a library of law books as an asset. Surrounded by wealth and unethical behavior, Roman chooses to claim a reward for $100,000 with the knowledge he acquires from taking on a case of a gang member who’s accused of murdering an Armenian store clerk. Once Roman gets his hands on the cash, he suddenly starts living large – taking a day off to get bacon maple-glazed doughnuts by the beach (something he always talked about doing but never had the time), purchasing pricey business suits and getting a modern hairdo, among other things. He takes Maya out on a fancy date and shows off his new suit and hairstyle. Maya shares with Roman some her life struggles with idealism and the reality of life, but Roman seems to lack compassion, even though he actually does feel it, he is really preoccupied with other things. The date ends on a high note as we see that they still have a strong connection.

The movie takes more of a predictable turn as Roman ends up paying the price for his unethical behavior and becomes a sort-of martyr for his cause. His real undoing comes about when he quips “I’m tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful.” The Roman we met in the begging on the movie would have never said that. Gilroy wraps the movie up neatly, with George doing what Roman wasn’t able to do – filing Roman’s brief in court — and Maya being inspired to mentor her students with Roman’s kind of activism and resistance. This ending in no way detracts from Denzel Washington’s brilliant performance, playing a man who is living with a mild-yet-obviously-present case of autism.

Washington brings his best effort to deliver an outstanding performance — one for which he may soon end up being rewarded for — in a movie that is headed for a predictable and unoriginal ending. As Roman tells us early on in the movie, the “Esquire” in his name means he is “above gentleman but below knight.” Similarly, Gilroy’s movie Roman J. Israel, Esq. is above average but below the greatness that we associate with Denzel’s most recent movies (i.e. FencesFlight).


Have you seen ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’? Well, what did you think? 

Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2015 viewings

I saw this list on Variety on 10 Actors To Watch in 2015 and I realized I dropped the ball on this Actor Discoveries post last year. I mentioned in the first post back in 2012 that one of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. I planned on making this post an annual thing but alas, the last time I did this post was in 2013.

On that list, I included Lake Bell, Daniel Brühl, Riz Ahmed, Andrea Riseborough and David Oyelowo. Since then, most of them have been getting more prominent roles, with the exception of Riseborough which I think is so criminally under-utilized. Since I didn’t make a list last year, certainly Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Reid would’ve made my 2014 shortlist.

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So, based on this year’s viewings (not exclusive to movies released last year) , here are five new-to-me actors I’d like to see working more in Hollywood.

[In alphabetical order]

Carmen Ejogo

Ejogo

The Oscars not only dropped the ball on several counts when it comes to SELMA last year. Much was made about the omission of Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo from the nomination list, but I think Carmen Ejogo was equally deserving to be amongst the Best Supporting Actress nominees.

Like his co-star, she’s from the UK but she effortlessly portrayed an American. She’s been working in a variety of TV and film, so I feel kinda bad that I hadn’t seen her until this year. There’s a certain elegance and tortured soul about her that makes her so intriguing to watch. I’m hoping her career would benefit from the Oscar buzz and that she’d be getting more and more prominent roles.

What’s Next: Jazz biopic Born to Be Blue with Ethan Hawke

Jack Huston

Huston

I noticed Jack Huston when I saw American Hustle, but it wasn’t until Night Train in Lisbon that I became a fan. Huston has quite a Hollywood pedigree, being the grandson of famed filmmaker John Huston and nephew of Anjelica Huston. But the 32-year-old Londoner is a talented actor in his own right.

I like that he has one of those *ethnically hard to pin down* look about him that makes him suitable to play different kinds of ethnicity. In Night Train to Lisbon he played a Portuguese doctor and an American mobster in American Hustle. As many actors who grew up in the UK, he’s got a knack for accents which makes him even more versatile. I wasn’t thrilled at all when they announced they’re remaking Ben-Hur, but since they cast Huston in the titular role, I’m actually intrigued! I’d love to see more of him in a variety of roles, as he’s far more interesting to watch than a lot of Hollywood A-listers working today.

What’s Next: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (as Mr. Wickham) and the Ben-Hur remake

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Rebecca Ferguson

Ferguson

My friend Ashley had told me about the Starz’s miniseries The White Queen a while back, but I haven’t got around to seeing it. Well, it’s on the top of my Amazon Prime queue now after I saw Rebecca in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I really couldn’t shut up about how impressed I was with her in that role. It was surely a kick-ass performance but she didn’t just pull off the physicality of the role, but she elevates the role into so much more. She’s equally as intriguing as Tom Cruise if not more so, and no doubt she’s the most memorable part about that film.

As I’ve blogged about here, I’m thrilled to see her cast in The Girl on the Train and I’m glad she didn’t end up becoming Channing Tatum’s love interest in Gambit. She’s so much more interesting to be pigeonholed into action roles, and so I hope Hollywood realizes that.

What’s Next: She’ll be in the upcoming espionage drama Despite The Falling SnowShe’ll be starring with Sam Reid, wahoo!!
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Sarah Snook

Snook

Sometimes it only takes a single film for you to become an instant fan of a performer. That’s the case with Sarah Snook, who single-handedly stole the time travel sci-fi film Predestination with her outstanding performance.

As I mentioned in my review, it was a revelatory performance from the Aussie actress whose educated at National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. It’s quite a complex role with multiple layers but it’s so rewarding to see how she tackles each one convincingly and with so much heart.

What’s Next: She has a small role in the Aussie-set drama starring Kate Winslet, The Dressmaker. She’s also in the Steve Jobs film with Michael Fassbender. I hope she lands a leading role soon, she deserves it!
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Stanley Weber

Weber

Well I think this one doesn’t need much introduction if you’ve been reading my blog this year. I have mentioned him practically every week since I discovered him on April 5 in the Scottish rom-com Not Another Happy Ending (yes I even remembered the date!). It’s one of those spellbound moments that doesn’t happen very often, but once it did, well, it’s REALLY hard to snap out of it 😛

I’ve posted a full tribute for him here that list five of my favorite roles of his so far. It takes more than a pretty face for me to be obsessed with someone, and Stanley certainly is a dedicated actor who can handle stage, TV AND film roles, in fact that’s what he’s juggling this year alone. I LOVE actors who loves to mix things up and not afraid to look unglamorous for a role. It’d be tough to make this Frenchman look ugly though, I mean he’s still so beautiful even with THIS haircut for his upcoming role as a Jesuit priest in Pilgrimage.

What’s Next: I can’t freakin’ wait to see Stanley in STARZ’s Outlander season 2, the adventure drama Pilgrimage, and the French WWII drama L’origine de la violence. Hopefully all of them will be out next year!!
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Honorable Mentions:

I hadn’t heard of any of these five impressive performers prior to 2015, but I’m glad I saw them and I hope they continue to find prominent roles in Hollywood.

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Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

The Swedish actress seems to have had quite an astronomical rise to stardom in Hollywood. She had been working in her native country until about 2012 when she was cast with Mads Mikkelsen in A Royal Affair. I didn’t see Anna Karenina until earlier this year on the plane, in which she had a small role, but it wasn’t until Ex Machina that I really took notice of her. She has this delicate physique but a formidable screen charisma that makes her so lovely to watch. It’s no surprise she is one busy girl, with three more films scheduled to open later this year, as well as the untitled Bourne film with Matt Damon next year.

Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man)

As I was watching the John le Carré spy drama, one of the performances that intrigued me was by the actor who portrayed the mysterious Issa Karpov. I found out later that Dobrygin is a Russian actor who’s a classically-trained ballet dancer. He apparently won a Silver Bear award for Best Actor at Berlin Film Festival for Russian film How I Ended This Summer.

I definitely would love to see more of him in Hollywood, hopefully he will continue acting and not go back to go back to ballet. Per The Guardian, he has just finished on Susanna White’s Our Kind of Traitor, with Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis and Naomie Harris.

Karidja Touré (Girlhood)

Another French actor who caught my eye and this was her feature film debut! The 21-year-old has that undeniable charm and screen presence on top of her acting talent. Her parents are from the Ivory Coast but she was born in France and grew up in Paris. I hope she’d get the same opportunities as fellow French actor from north African origin, Omar Sy, who had a breakout role in The Intouchables. He’s gone to big budget route such as Jurassic World, but I’d like to see Touré in smaller films that would offer her a chance to show what she’s capable of.

Maika Monroe (The Guest)

The Guest feature two awesome performances from relative newcomers. I’m already familiar with Dan Stevens from his period drama days in the UK, though most Americans probably saw him here for the first time. I hadn’t seen Monroe before however, and right away I thought she has an uncanny resemblance to Gwen Stefani. She also has that cool factor, that effortless swagger of a rock star that makes her fun to watch. She’s also in the buzzed-about horror flick It Follows, so I think the 22-year-old Californian has a long career ahead of her.

Taron Egerton (Kingsman)

Speaking of swagger, there’s plenty of that to be found on the 25-year-old Welsh native. There’s a devil-may-care attitude in him that I find endearing, which reminds me a bit of Tom Hardy when I first saw him on screen. I haven’t seen him in a serious drama yet so I’m curious to see how he fares in that. Hollywood’s certainly taken notice of him, as he’s been cast as the Robin Hood reboot. We’ll also see him along with Hardy in LEGEND later this year.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd)

The Belgian actor has been working pretty steadily since the early 2000s but for some reason I just never got around to seeing any of his films until earlier this year. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting him in the role of Gabriel Oak, a classic romantic hero in Victorian England, but he won me over with his sensitive portrayal. He’s all doe-eyed with a hint of smolder… not the steamy kind of smolder, but one infused with such sincerity that makes it easy to root for him. I said in my review that he reminds me a bit of Viggo Mortensen, and that’s a good thing. Curious to see what role he’d tackle next, but I probably should go back and check out his older films.


Thoughts on any of these actors? Are you a fan of their work?

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