Denzel Washington stars as the title character in this week’s new release Roman J. Israel, Esq. Coming from writer/director Dan Gilroy, the movie follows Israel beginning with his time as a idealistic young lawyer doing what he needs to do to succeed while those above him win all the glory.
A series of events sees him recruited by a prestigious law firm by the former student (Colin Farrell) of Israel’s professional mentor. That decision ultimately puts Israel in a position where he has to make choices that may conflict with the ideals he’s long clung to and could threaten his entire professional standing and career.
The movie’s one and only poster shows Washington as Israel from the back, his hair taking up a good amount of the image’s real estate. That, combined with the glasses, old-school Walkman headphones and purple suit coat are meant to visually communicate who the character is and what sort of unconventional and unique personality will be on display. “All rise” we’re told at the bottom.
Israel is a go-for-broke lawyer as the first trailer opens, using every means at his disposal to get his clients. When he’s laid off from his firm he has a bit of an identity crisis. An unethical and illegal decision he makes during a case comes back to haunt him years later after he’s risen once more to the top of the field and various people and groups are tightening around him to find out the truth and bring him down.
Gotta love Washington in these kinds of roles. He’s fast and smart and goes all in on every aspect of the character, both good and bad. There are quite a few subplots hinted at in the trailer but you get a general idea and see what the big beats are going to be.
Online and Social
After the trailer plays on the official website the splash page features the same image seen on the key art. There are links in the upper right corner to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
That one trailer is the only thing in the “Video” section that starts the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a decent synopsis of the story. “Cast & Crew” just has lists of names and finally the “Gallery” has a handful of production stills.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one presented the story as a portrait of a man who cuts his own path and makes a lot of enemies along the way. He’s brash and mildly offensive and unconventional in his approach, cutting through the bull and making a name for himself.
Media and Publicity
A few first-look stills were released around the same time it was announced the movie would premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It picked up pretty good word-of-mouth while there and it was eventually given a release date by Columbia Pictures.
Aside from the release of marketing materials and few Q&As featuring Washington and Gilroy there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push here.
I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but this is the kind of movie that would have been a summer tentpole for any studio 30 years ago, so it’s a bit odd to see it almost flying under the radar here. Washington is one of his generation’s finest actors, always delivering solid and often extraordinary performances. Those skills are certainly on display in the campaign, particularly in the TV spots where the focus is a bit tighter, but there isn’t nearly the kind of general appreciation that should accompany any new film he’s in.
Instead it’s a decent but subdued campaign for a movie that has almost no chance at the box-office this weekend. It’s going up against a powerhouse in Justice League and so will be swamped by that as well as anyone who’s not still catching up on Thor or another recent release. It’s this kind of reality that has many movies of this type – a serious drama meant for adults and featuring an all-time great actor – headed to streaming services.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.