Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., rated PG-13
**

Denzel Washington’s latest film is a flawed film that focuses on the main character’s values and moral failure.
The film, featuring a strong cast, is written and directed by Oscar nominee Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). After the film’s premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, 13 minutes were cut from the film and a key scene was moved up earlier in the film.
The film is set in downtown Los Angeles, which is where Roman J. Israel lives and works; he is played by Washington, seven-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner (Training Day, Glory). His appearance is stunning; he wears outdated clothes, outdated glasses and an outdated hairstyle. He has a gap between his two front teeth, carries a heavy briefcase and always has a pair of headphones on to listen to his iPod. The ringtone on his flip-phone is Eddie Hendricks’ 1973 hit “Keep on Truckin’”. The man is definitely stuck in the 70’s.
Roman is a lawyer in a two-man criminal defense law firm that handles cases for the downtrodden and underprivileged. The firm has never made much money and is in debt. Roman lives in a modest apartment and often eats peanut butter. The owner of the firm, William Jackson, is the public face of the firm. He argues the cases in court and meets with clients, while Roman does the behind the scenes work (research, etc.). Roman may be a savant or has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has remarkable legal knowledge, but is very uncomfortable socially.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
When Jackson has a heart attack, the Jackson family decides to let Roman go. They hire George Pierce, a rich corporate defense attorney played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell (In Bruges) to close the firm down. Eventually Pierce in turn hires Roman at his firm. Roman, who believes in fighting for the underprivileged and has a strong sense of justice, tells George that he is all about the money and not justice.
A key point in the film is a bad decision that Roman makes. The decision was out of character for the principled Roman, and it is not really explained as to why he did what he did, though we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Carmen Ejogo (Selma), plays Maya Alston, a young legal activist, who develops a romantic relationship with Roman. Again, why she is so enamored with the not very likeable Roman is never explained.
********************

Washington delivers his usual strong performance as Roman.  Farrell does a good job portraying the arrogant owner of a high-priced law firm. We see him changing, adopting Roman’s values as the film progresses. This is not really explained either, as Roman is seen moving away from those very values.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes in the film include justice, sin, judgement.
Although there are things to like in this film, particularly Washington’s acting performance, there were just too many holes in the script by Gilroy for me to give this film a good recommendation.


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My Review of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

fantastic-beastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rated PG-13
*** ½

Five years after the final Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows: Part 2), comes this film that is adapted by J.K. Rowling, in her first turn at writing the screenplay for a film, adapted from her 128 page 2001 book.  This is the first of five planned films to be based on Rowling’s short book, which is now available in a new screenplay edition.  Rowling has stated that the film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in 1927, became a massive bestseller as well as an approved textbook at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry.

The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, and has an estimated budget of $180 million. Oscar nominee Steve Kloves returns form the Potter films as producer.

The film takes place in New York in 1926. Shy and quirky British magizoologist Newt Scamander is played by two time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who had auditioned for the role of Tom Riddle in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but was turned down after reading one line.  Newt travels the world collecting endangered magical creatures and arrives in the city looking for new additions. He has all kinds of these creatures in his worn brown leather suitcase.

There are witches and wizards in the city, but they mostly stay out of sight of the No-Majs, short for no magic, as humans are called in America (as opposed to Muggles in Britain).  There is a Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), the American version of the British Ministry of Magic.  When Newt accidently exchanges his suitcase with a No-Maj baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) the effect is that a number of the creatures in the suitcase are unleashed into the streets of the city, leading to a frantic search to find  them. When Newt is spotted by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston), an investigator who for some reason is on thin ice in her job with MACUSA, she hauls him in for questioning.

We see something evil and dangerous in the city. It has been occasionally destroying buildings, throwing vehicles, etc. It is referred to as Obscurus, a massive magical force that swirls around in a destructive black cloud.

The film also shows us magic-fearing protesters, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who takes children from the magic families she exposes. One of those, the bullied and abused Credence Barebone (Ezra Miler), has secret meetings with the powerful and power-hungry Percival Graves (Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell) who works for Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo from Selma).

Tina and Newt will eventually become good friends, and with Jacob and Tina’s sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), will work together to try to prevent Mary Lou and Percival from exposing the magical world to the No-Majs.

We are told of a powerful dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, who has gone missing. Readers of the Harry Potter books will recall Grindelwald (here played by Johnny Depp) as an older man. Grindelwald will play a major role in the future films in this series.

Parents who were concerned with the magic and wizards in the Harry Potter books and films will have the same concerns here. The film also contains some violence, primarily as a result of the mysterious Obscurus.

What did I like about the film? A lot! The cast was excellent, especially Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. They had great chemistry, and I enjoyed their partnership with Waterston’s Tina. The 1926 New York City sets and costumes were excellent and the beasts were, dare I say, fantastic? In addition, the magical effects were at times incredible.

What could have been better? Some of the dialogue could have been better. At times the film moved slowly. Although there is really a lot going on in this first film, perhaps the film could have been edited down from its 133 minutes. In addition, the destruction caused by Obscurus goes on too long, as it does in some Marvel films.

Note: Some critics have written of Rowling using the film as an anti-fascist political allegory (Fascism definition: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government). Perhaps that is in here if you are looking for it. I saw it more as the wizarding world trying to stay out of sight from the No-Majs.