ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (USA 2017) ***

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Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action.


Dan Gilroy


Dan Gilroy


Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s ROMAN J. ISRAEL is a film that tries very hard to be perfect, just as its subject, ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ (Denzel Washington) tries to be.  But perfection is a state that is almost impossible to achieve with regards to the film and its subject, and this point comes clear at the end of the film.  Which is a shame considering writer/director Gilroy’s noble intentions.

The film begins with a document in the making, with a plaintiff and defendant named the same person Roman J. Israel, Esq.  The film flashbacks three years earlier to explain how this state of affairs comes to be.

Gilroy introduces his man, Israel as a noble man, but one that is not respected by many as this is a man not of the world, but of humbler means but with proud aspirations.  He works in a small law firm with his partner taking on small cases that matter in terms of human rights and fairness.  The partner does all the court appearances while Israel all the ground work.  When his partner, the firm’s front man, has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on that role.  He finds out some unsettling things about what the crusading law firm has done that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and he finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action.  

Into the his world arrives two people that make a difference.  One is Maya (Carmen Ejogo) who looks up to him and who he eventually falls in love with.  The other is the head of a well established and successful law firm, Arthur (Colin Farrell) whom his partner taught and inspired in law school.  Arthur takes Israel in, hoping to find his conscience that he has almost lost in the world of business and law.

What stands out in this incredible story is Roman’s downfall.   Like any other man, he is tempted by the good life.  Roman takes a bite of the apple in the garden of Eden.  The apple arrives in the reward money Roman quietly takes from one of his cases.  And he is found out.

A lot of the film rests on Oscar Winner Denzel Washington’s performance.  Roman is the main subject who is in almost every scene.  Roman not only undergoes a character change once but twice from good to bad and to good again.  The character also undergoes a rites-of-passage where he learns about life itself.  But the surprise and prized performance comes from Colin Farrell.  Farrell douses his unkempt and portly appearance he donned in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and THE LOBSTER to reveal a sexy business executive, a Mr. Perfect looking sharp and sexy in his  perfectly tailored suits and groomed hair.   He finally shows his transition from action actor to star commanding the screen presence in this film so magnificently.

One wishes ROMAN the film would have come out more powerful.  The main problem is the film aiming too high.  A classic movie arrives with minor flaws, some dull parts and surprises just as what life dishes out.  Gilroy’s ROMAN J. ISRAEL, entertaining though it may be, is just too meticulously planned.


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Film Review: IT COMES AT NIGHT (USA 2017)

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it comes at night.jpgSecure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults (screenplay)
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo

Review by Gilbert Seah
IT COMES AT NIGHT begins with a taut medical examination of an older man later revealed to be Bud (David Pendleton) lying on a made-shift stretcher infested with lesions and boils. “Can you hear me?” is the question asked. After the examination, the patient is carted off, to the woods outside a boarded up shack where he is crudely wrapped up and burnt with gasoline.

It has all been done before. Despite writer/director Shults’s genuine effort of differentiating his film from the end of the world plaque infested survival horror flick, one cannot help but feel a certain similarity of events from start to end. Never mind the carefully planned shocks, the effective use of enclosed space (cinematography by Drew Daniels) and darkness and never mind the effective use of sound to scare the audience. It does not help that the script has no plot twists or has the addition of more human interaction.

The story first appears to be told from the point of view of the first family’s 17-year old teen son, Travis (Kevin Harrison Jr.) But the view shifts later on the film as Travis has less screen presence. The only survives on display appear to be his family. Order is kept in the home by his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton who also co-produced the film). His mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) is present and also an assortment of farm animals and dog, who are allowed in the house, apparently to prevent them from catching some deadly virus. When they venture outside, they wear gas masks. It is a test of survival. When they hear a noise from outside, Tom carefully opens the door to find another man, (Christopher Abbott) looking to find his family, in this case his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and baby some food.

Shults does not make any effort or even need to explain his film. After the first scene (described above), the audience can correctly deduce that the apocalyptic film is in the near future. A plaque has deserted most of civilization. The family on display is surviving at all costs. As expected there are intruders from the outside. The two families ave something to share or trade. But mistrust exists and survival takes place with sacrifice of their human souls.

It is easier to make a faultless minimalist horror film like this one that a complex film with flaws. IT COMES BY NIGHT falls into the first category.
It does not help that the film does not have a happy Hollywood ending or a closed one at that. Despite all the film’s plusses, IT COMES AT NIGHT does not succeed at all as an original or absorbing drama or horror film.

Schultz, whose first feature KRISHA secured Shults some fame, which resulted in a two-picture deal with A24 films, IT COMES AT NIGHT being the first one. The film had its premiere in April this year at the The Overlook Film Festival. The film has so far, garnered favourable reviews.


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