Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Denzel Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance as Attorney with Asperger’s
Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a high-functioning savant on the autism spectrum who has been practicing law in L.A. for the past 36 years. The brilliant attorney has spent most of his career under the radar, writing legal briefs in a rear office for indigent criminal defendants while his partner, William Henry Jackson, served as the face of the firm, whether cultivating clients or arguing their cases in the courtroom.
This unorthodox arrangement worked well for Roman who, besides his disorder, is a longtime political activist dedicated to a progressive agenda — namely, to assist downtrodden individuals unfairly ensnared in the net of the prison-industrial complex. Because of that commitment, he’s been willing to work for far less pay than colleagues of his caliber. Consequently, the highly-principled lawyer has had to scrape by on a modest salary, living in the same dive for decades where he subsisted on a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches and jazz classics played on an old-fashioned turntable.
Everything changes the day William suffers a heart attack and the two-person firm is forced to dissolve. Roman first applies for a position with a public interest non-profit that shares his values. But when the empathetic director (Carmen Ejogo) explains that she doesn’t have the money to hire an attorney, he resigns himself to joining a corporate firm where he’s soon teamed with a young associate (Colin Farrell) interested only in maximizing profits.
This leaves Roman sitting on the horns of an ethical dilemma. Should he abandon his morals to keep a roof over his head? That is the question at the center of Roman J. Israel, Esq., a compelling character portrait written and directed by Oscar-nominee, Dan Gilroy (for Nightcrawler).
The legendary Denzel Washington is quite convincing, as well as moving, as a beleaguered soul afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. His powerful performance might very well be remembered at Oscar time, given the Academy’s recent history of rewarding thespians playing impaired characters, including Eddie Redmayne (2014) for wheelchair-bound Stephen Hawking (ALS); Colin Firth (2010) for stuttering King George VI; Geoffrey Rush (1996) for mentally-ill David Helfgott; Tom Hanks (1994) for dimwitted Forest Gump; Tom Hanks (1993) for AIDS patient Andrew Beckett; Daniel Day-Lewis (1989) for cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown; and Dustin Hoffman (1988) for mathematics savant Rain Man.
Win, lose or draw, Roman J. Israel, Esq. deserves accolades aplenty in its own right for its touching treatment of such a sensitive subject.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity
Running time: 129 minutes
Production Studio: Bron Creative / Cross Creek Pictures / Escape Artists / FZ /Macro
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Murder on the Orient Express
Complex Costume Drama Does Justice to Agatha Christie’s Classic Whodunit!
First published in 1936, Murder on the Orient Express revolved around the most famous case handled by Inspector Hercule Poirot. Created by Agatha Christie, the Belgian detective appeared in 33 of her novels, as well as a play and over 50 short stories.
This complex crime caper was first brought to the big screen by Sidney Lumet in a fairly faithful adaptation co-starring Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir John Gielgud, Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset. Bergman won the last of her three Oscars for her sterling performance as Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish nurse.
Murder on the Orient Express 2.0 was directed by five-time, Oscar-nominee, Kenneth Branagh, who assembled a top-flight cast with an equally-impressive pedigree. His A-List ensemble features Academy Award-winners Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz, along with nominees Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and Johnny Depp.
Branagh also stars as Poirot, sporting a world-class mustache while playing the super sleuth with perfect aplomb. The visually-captivating costume drama is perhaps more memorable for its breathtaking panoramas than the deliberately-paced mystery which takes its sweet time to be unraveled.
The picture’s point of departure is Jerusalem, which is where we find Poirot paying homage at the Wailing Wall before boarding a slow boat to Istanbul. There, he starts soaking in the sights until the vacation is cut short by a telegram summoning him back to London immediately.
With the help of a fellow Belgian who happens to be a train company executive (Tom Bateman), he secures a berth aboard the lavishly-outfitted Orient Express for what he reasonably expected to be an unremarkable three-day trip. However, he shifts into detective mode when an American art dealer (Johnny Depp) dies soon after expressing a fear of being killed.
As Poirot digs deeper and deeper for clues, we gradually see that each of the 13 passengers had a good reason to want the unsavory character dead. Sure, everybody’s a suspect, but which one’s a murderer?
An Agatha Christie classic whodunit solved the old-fashioned way… by the extraordinary deductive reasoning of the legendary Hercule Poirot!
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, ethnic slurs and mature themes
In English and French with subtitles
Running time: 114 minutes
Production Studio: Kinberg Genre / The Mark Gordon Company
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Nov. 17, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Justice League (PG-13 for action and violence) This DC Comics adaptation finds Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) altruism to recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to save the planet from an apocalyptic threat posed by a new nemesis (Ciaran Hinds) with an army of extraterrestrial minions. Cast includes Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons as Alfred the Butler, and J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.
The Star (PG for mature themes) Faith-based parable unfolding about a donkey (Steven Yeun), dove (Keegan-Michael Key) and lamb (Aidy Bryant) who were the unsung heroes in the stable on the very first Christmas. Co-starring Gina Rodriguez as Mary, Zachary Levi as Joseph, and Christopher Plummer as King Herod. Support cast includes Tyler Perry, Mariah Carey, Ving Rhames, Anthony Anderson, Tracy Morgan, televangelist Joel Osteen and Oprah.
Wonder (PG for bullying, mild epithets and mature themes) Adaptation of A.J. Palacio’s inspirational best-seller about a disfigured 5th grader’s (Jacob Tremblay) adjustment to junior high after being home-schooled by his mom (Julia Roberts) all his life. With Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Atomic Homefront (Unrated) Eye-opening exposé about the North County St. Louis neighborhoods left contaminated with radioactive waste after serving as a dumping ground for the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Big Sonia (Unrated) Bittersweet biopic about great-grandmother, businesswoman and haunted Holocaust survivor, Sonia Warshawski, who, after losing her tailor shop’s lease at the age of 91, recounts for posterity the horrors she witnessed at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Majdanek, which included watching her mother being marched into the gas chamber.
Destined (Unrated) Bifurcated, ghetto-fabulous saga chronicling the divergent fates of two young men (both played by Cory Hardrict) raised in the ghetto: one, growing up to become a gangsta, the other to study architecture and make it out of the hood. With Zulay Henao, La La Anthony and Hill Harper.
Mr. Roosevelt (Unrated) Offbeat comedy about a fledgling comedienne (Noel Wells) who moves back to Austin from Hollywood to care for her cat when informed by her ex-boyfriend (Nick Thune) that it has fallen seriously ill. With Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda and Andre Hyland.
Mudbound (R for nudity, brief profanity and disturbing violence) Adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, set in 1946 Mississippi, chronicling the contrasting fates of a couple of World War II veterans — one black (Jason Mitchell), one white (Garrett Hedlund) — returning to the same farm. With Mary J. Blige, Karey Mulligan and Jason Clarke.
On the Beach at Night Alone (Unrated) Introspective character study of a famous actress (Min-hee Kim) who travels from Korea to Hamburg to reflect on life while hoping her married lover joins her in Germany. Supporting cast includes Young-hwa Seo, Jae-yeong Jeong and Seong-kun Mun. (In Korean, English and German with subtitles)