Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

For movie lovers, anticipation and reality are the two states we inhabit in relation to any movie. When the reality turns out to be disappointment, we feel let down for ourselves and sympathetic toward the people who worked hard to make a good film. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was a big disappointment for me. Here’s the why of that.

For twenty-six years, Roman Israel (Denzel Washington) has been the in-office work horse of a two man criminal defense firm while his partner did the public work in the court system. That partner has had a heart attack and lies dying slowly in a hospital.

George (Colin Farrell), an upscale, successful lawyer, steps in to shut down the dingy office where Roman works to redesign the court system that punishes down and out lawbreakers without any effort toward rehabilitation. George hires Roman to address the social justice side of life in a token way in his own big firm.

This is a one man show for Denzel Washington and that is a big undertaking for one actor whose character rarely interacts with others and walks through life talking mostly to himself. His Roman Israel has an encyclopedic grasp of the criminal codes along with dedication to social justice, 1960s style.

For two hours this is what you will see: Roman coming to the office in ill matching old pants, shirt, and sweater or jacket, talking to himself about injecting rehabilitation into the system. His only social interactions unfold with George who hires him for his mastery of the criminal code and with Maya (Carmen Ejogo) who sees he is as troubled as she is. Even when he is with either of those two, he is muttering under his breath in an unreachable inner place. He cannot relax enough to get to know either of them. This is a man so trapped in himself that he can’t respond to the two people who reach out to him.

Roman searches for a job with civil rights in his heart and tears in his eyes as he sees his dream of a grand new era of social reform is of little importance in the world of modern law. Whenever he tries to sell his reform, he is dismissed as a nuisance. He is an eccentric in a world that sees little importance in his ideas. A few light hearted scenes unfold when he violates his own code to stay in a fancy hotel and cavort in the ocean. Can he walk comfortably in the shoes of a rich man?

Writer/director Dan Gilroy creates a character so absorbed in his own dreams that he is of little interest either to on screen characters or to theater audiences. One actor must create this man who is a prisoner in his own mind. He must carry the movie for two hours, and that’s a devil of a load for any actor, even for the grand Denzel Washington.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Word Count : 495
Running Time: 2:09
Rating : PG-13
Date : December 3, 2017


This review was posted on December 3, 2017, in Crime, Drama.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

How often during this year’s barren movie scene have you been surprised? Hustle off to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for a fix. Martin McDonagh has created a movie that is made for the oddball talents of Frances McDormand and she embraces his script with abandon. It’s odd to suggest that you will laugh often and not be much bothered by the violence, but that’s true. Take a look.

The daughter of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has been raped and murdered and Ebbing’s local police department has not turned up a clue to the murderer in over a year. In her anger, Mildred rents three decrepit billboards on a seldom used highway entrance to the town for a month with an option to extend if she can raise the money. Papered with a bright red background, she paints enormous white letters. On #1: Still No Arrests. #2: How Come, Chief Willoughby? #3: Raped While Dying.

Mildred then visits the police department where all conversation is wrapped in profanity. Take that as the announcement that the rest of the movie will unfold in an odd mixture of accusations, comic moments, physical violence, and shifting alliances all delivered in obscenities.

We get to know Dixon (Sam Rockwell), second in command, who unfurls an odd character who keeps going home to his mother to refuel his brutal self for all other encounters. Woody Harrelson creates William Willoughby, the tough talking police chief who confesses to Mildred that he has cancer. His dying police chief is a grand portrait of a man who actually wants to find the truth but is wrapped in fear of dying and leaving his family. Even his search for the truth doesn’t derail Mildred’s foul mouthed verbal attack.

McDormand, looking the same in every scene with uncombed hair and jeans, lets us know with just a few atypical gestures that a human being lives within this angry woman. She creates a character like none we’ve ever seen on screen. When I promise that you’ll both laugh and shiver as she unleashes her rage, you won’t believe me until you watch that odd combination unfold violently in the hands of this unpredictable actor. She’s not just an original; she’s very good.

Other than the three billboards, there is little time spent on the town or its inhabitants. We meet just nine characters brought together by McDormand’s actions. As they destroy each other verbally and physically in that grim police station, the station itself becomes a stage for the eruption of the violence just resting in the minds of all the players.

By now you are probably deciding this one isn’t for you, but I urge you to go. If you think I’m crazy to recommend a movie saturated in fire and blood and guns and bad language, just go see for yourself what writer/director Martin McDonagh and Frances McDormand have done. And did I forget to tell you that you’ll laugh a lot?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 1:55
Rating : R
Date : December 3, 2017