There are few actors with a towering and intimidating excellence as that of Denzel Washington. Over his career, he has turned in so many charismatic performances that it's almost too easy to attach Oscar buzz to any of his latest projects. In the case of director Dan Gilroy's Roman J. Israel, Esq., he looks to be pulling one of his most elaborate roles in years by donning an afro, glasses, and a lot of weight. Is it more than stunt casting? Well, the first trailer for the film would suggest that it's actually going to be a pretty entertaining trip to the movies. If nothing else, it's further proof that Washington can sell anything, and this is definitely a very strong start to a late entry in the Oscar race.
Like most people, I was a fan of Gilroy's directorial debut Nightcrawler, which earned him a screenplay Oscar nomination. It was an entertaining film that pitted Jake Gyllenhaal in another one of his eccentric performances that seemed to get overlooked at awards time. Still, its prescient exploration of "If it bleeds, it leads" journalism produced a haunting and unique tale - and helped to launch Riz Ahmed's career as well (he's doing fine. He just won an Emmy). I am curious to know what he does next, and I am also very glad to see that it just so happens to include Washington, who is fresh off of the Oscar nomination for Fences. Everything's looking up for both of them at the moment, and this movie could be their shot at more nominations.
Of course, the oddest thing about the film is its name: Roman J. Israel, Esq., which is easy to get tripped up about and has odd commas and periods. Still, it's a title worthy of an odd role by Washington. The one change that this has from what we've seen recently from him is that he's physically changed his appearance to become this character. In some ways, it's the perfect Oscar bait material. He has put on weight and now looks like a Denzel Washington impersonator instead of the real deal. Speaking as that didn't lead Gyllenhaal to an Oscar nomination, there is some hesitance to outward welcoming Washington into the race on these statutes alone. Then again, it's Denzel Washington, so all's good right?
Check out the trailer below:
It looks very entertaining. Here's the plot description according to IMDb:
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.
In some ways, it does seem like a contemporary version of such stories as The Verdict. The idea of a defense attorney with personal problems isn't necessarily new material for movies, but it does seem like Gilroy's socio-political leanings in film will make this an interesting exploration not only of Washington's character, but potentially of the whole system. One can only guess at this moment when the film comes out. But even then, this looks to be a pretty fun use of Washington, though it's unclear how much of that is just charisma and how much is a great performance. Still, don't count him out yet. There's so much room for potential here, it's not even funny.