Denzel is the greatest actor of this generation, and before the name Daniel Day Lewis even starts to leak out of your fool-ass lips, let me remind you to shut the fuck up. It takes five years for that motherfucker to make a movie because he has to meticulously research every role and then spend months inhabiting a character that he can’t escape from after the director calls cut. On the other hand, Denzel wakes up Denzel every goddamn morning. Denzel is Denzel before and after the director yells “cut.”
How’s that for method acting?
You know the drill, though. Denzel likes to make one for the good of society for every three he makes for the paycheck. Denzel’s got bills. But last year, Denzel directed and starred in Fences, and after that, Denzel was tired. He was tired because the Academy decided, in their infinite wisdom, to give that motherfucker Casey Affleck the Best Actor award and now the Oscar people gotta watch a man who paid off a couple of ladies over sexual harassment accusations hand out the Best Actress award in the middle of the goddamn #MeToo movement. Ain’t that a bitch. They wouldn’t have had that problem if they’d given that little gold son of a bitch to the man who deserved it: Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr.
But like I said, after all that, Denzel was tired, and he was feeling a little vulnerable and under-appreciated when a guy named Dan Gilroy approached him with a script and said, “Denzel. Here’s your chance to take that Oscar home next year.” Now Denzel, he was skeptical, because white dudes have been telling him that for 27 goddamn years and the only time he took it home was when Antoine Fuqua asked him to make a crooked cop movie. Now Denzel, he was like, “Who the fuck are you, Dan Gilroy? I saw exactly what happened with Nightcrawler. You got the Oscar nomination, but the guy who brought that script to life, my boy Jake Gyllenhaal, was sitting at home watching Brokeback on Oscar night.”
But Dan, he says to Denzel, “Listen: You get to play a civil rights lawyer here,” and Denzel was like, “OK. OK. I’m listening.” And Dan is like, “Now this lawyer, he’s got a little of the savant syndrome, and you know those Academy voters eat that shit up,” and Denzel is like, “Uh huh. I remember when that other abusive motherfucker got an Oscar nom in 2002 for I Am Sam, but let me remind you who won the gold that year. A man by the name of Denzel. You remember that? Of course you do.
“But I hear you, Dan. I’m intrigued.” And then Dan said to him, “Well, here’s the clincher: This lawyer has been beaten down by the system for 40 years, and after his law partner dies, he decides to turn against the system and get paid.”
“That’s gold! Denzel likes to get paid. What’s the name of this movie?”
“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
“Oh shiiiit. Sign me up, motherfucker.”
And that was that. Denzel thought he had it in the bag until he showed up to the set three months later and started filming Roman J. Israel, Esq. Because here’s the thing about Denzel. He’s got three weapons, and all three of them are deadly. 1) Give this man a gun, and he will turn it sideways and blow off a motherfucker’s head; 2) give him a chest-thumping monologue and a lot of space to gesticulate, and you can just hand him the Oscar; or 3) let Denzel flash those pearly whites, because it’s like staring directly into the sun.
But when Denzel started shooting the script, he quickly realized that this movie doesn’t have any one of the three major Denzel ingredients. Roman J. Israel is a tired old man who ain’t got much life left him. He ain’t got no gun, no speech, and no smile. He’s a timid man held down by his conscience, and let me tell you something about Denzel: Restraint ain’t Denzel’s forte. I mean, he can do it, because Denzel can do motherfucking anything, but what is the point? If you want tired or restrained, hire Morgan or hire Danny. You gotta let Denzel be Denzel. You can’t give Denzel a lawyer movie without giving him a courtroom speech. That’s like hiring Michelangelo to paint a bus stop sign.
Now let me tell you a little about what happens in Roman J. Israel, Esq. After Roman’s legal partner dies, he reluctantly starts working for a big criminal defense machine. Roman ain’t happy about it, but he needs the money. But he’s still got his principles, at least until he gets mugged one night and decides to tell his principles to go screw (that’s the first problem right there: Denzel doesn’t sell out to nobody). He turns on a client for a cash reward, lives it up for a couple of days, and then the regret starts to set in. Now this is where Denzel should shine. This is where Denzel comes up with the perfect plan. This is where Denzel blows the roof off the dump.
But apparently, Dan Gilroy has never met Denzel motherfucking Washington, because that two-bit hack wrote Roman J. Israel, Esq. into a corner. Nobody writes Denzel into a corner. Give that man a gun to shoot his way out, or a big speech to talk his way out, or even an opportunity to charm his way out with those pearly whites. Don’t write Denzel into a corner and then tell him to bang his head against the wall. That’s a discredit to Denzel. That’s a discredit to the audience. That’s a motherfucking discredit to society. Dan Gilroy got a gold-plated pistol, and he failed to put a bullet in it. It ain’t right.
Roman J. Israel is a mediocre film, and Denzel doesn’t do mediocre, y’all. That’s on Dan Gilroy. That man let his audience down. He let his studio down. But most of all, he let Denzel down. Denzel won’t forget, either. Trust me. Nobody has let Denzel down this bad since Virtuosity. How many of you can name the director of Virtuosity without checking IMDB?
Exactly. That’s what I thought.