I enjoy watching disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), San Andreas (2015), Geostorm (2017)and Greenland (2020). In an instant you’re immersed in a life and death struggle as the protagonists put their lives on the line to protect their families. Because of the amazing CGI special effects, you feel like you’re right there as skyscrapers collapse, meteors crash through the atmosphere, tsunamis flood coastlines and massive volcanoes erupt.
There’s no doubt these movies are entertaining. As a Writer, however, I wonder if I’m drawn into these stories because of great writing, or am I just overwhelmed by cinematic shock and awe. Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), written and directed by Dan Gilroy is an example of a movie based on great writing, which does not rely on expensive special effects to overpower the senses. Denzel Washington, who portrays Roman, once again demonstrates his amazing versatility as he creates a character you can both pity and admire in the same instant.
Roman J. Israel Esq. incorporates many of the ingredients required to develop great characters. Roman, is flawed, vulnerable, and doesn’t have the self-confidence or physique of a military special forces operative. That’s why he’s someone the audience can relate to; when Roman hurts, you hurt.
Suddenly forced to transition from a backroom research position to the courtroom, due to the death of a legal partner, Roman struggles to find his place in the new environment. Many people can relate to his situation, as every day they are forced to go to jobs where they feel like they’re trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. And that’s where the magic happens, when someone watching the movie thinks to themselves, I know just how you feel Roman.
And then Roman makes a life-altering decision. He has lived a lonely life on the edge of poverty and when he finally sees an opportunity to break free, he gives into temptation and rolls the dice. I found my emotions were tied in knots, because I was happy that Roman was finally enjoying the life he had dreamed of, but dreaded what might happen if someone found out what he had done. The complicated, contradictory feelings that this story produces, demonstrates that this is truly masterful storytelling. If you’re reading a book or watching a movie, and you find yourself wondering what you would do in a similar situation, that means the writer has made the story personal. Special effects can keep your attention for a couple of hours, but only a great story can reach your heart.
I highly recommend that you first read the screenplay, before watching Roman J. Israel Esq., so you can truly appreciate how great the story is, before you see Denzel Washington bring Roman to life on the screen. I found the screenplay at Script Slug www.scriptslug.com.
Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper