Roman J. Israel, Esq., the new film written and directed by Dan Gilroy, does something rather remarkable, maybe even unprecedented, albeit not in a way anyone involved might prefer: It gets a bad performance out of Denzel Washington. To be fair to Denzel, who tends to be reliably commanding even when slumming it in commercial crap, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing wonders with this particular title role. Roman is the crusading lawyer as cartoon savant: self-righteous, vaguely aspergian, with an encyclopedic memory and lots of quirks in place of traits, like the fact that he seems to subsist entirely on peanut-butter sandwiches. We know that Washington has been cast against type the minute we lay eyes on him, decked out in nerd glasses, a ’70s-style Afro, and a clashing, ill-fitting patchwork suit. And we’re meant, perhaps, to gape in wonder at how this mega-watt movie star has tamped down his famous charisma to play Atticus Finch by way of Rain Man. But Washington doesn’t so much deepen the oddball character as lean into his tics and affectations: spewing impassioned legalese at a speedy mumble, poking and jabbing constantly at his face, even adopting an ostentatiously dorky gait Advertisement Roman… Read full this story
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