MovieViews: Two More for the Road for Oscar Run 2018

MovieViews: Two More for the Road for Oscar Run 2018

What could I possibly find in common between the next two #OscarRun film stops beyond seeing them within a few days of each other? Well, I had to rent  ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. and THE FLORIDA PROJECT on-demand earlier this week, since neither one of them is easy to find in theaters. Each offers one Academy Award nominee within the remaining nods I had yet to see of the six core categories’ 34 nominations (Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington and Best Supporting contender Willem Dafoe, respectively).  I knew absolutely nothing about either picture’s plot going into the viewings yet I had confidence there would be tremendous acting with these proven talents at the helm. (I do question Dafoe being nominated for support when his is one of the most frequently featured characters onscreen in the flick.) Beyond that, the only similarity would be that each filmmaker is not afraid to show human weaknesses and flaws, magnifying them even without celebrating them, and yet it doesn’t take away from those rare moments of joy, humanity and tenderness that the characters are caught expressing, too.

 

In ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ., Washington plays the title character, a studied though disheveled criminal defense attorney, who seems a throwback in every way – from his choice of music to his hair and fashion – he is clearly out of step with the rest of the world in more ways than one. But Roman, who has spent much of his career in the shadows of his partner, is committed to fighting for justice but by sifting through legal code and gathering cases in the background, never serving as the face of the practice. And then one day, his world changes and he is thrust into the foreground, resulting in consequences that ultimately lead to the arrival of the cut-throat, all business, George Pierce, a fellow lawyer and friend of his partner’s, played by Colin Farrell. As Roman’s role shifts yet again he finds increasingly that his desire to help those lacking representation or who are being misrepresented is not a welcomed attribute at his new employer — and in typical plot device fashion, the film delivers a terrifying encounter that leads Roman to experience his own mind shift, a turn of conscience. Roman dares to take a step that could cost his whole career and at the same time, change everything about his way of life.  But it will test every moral fiber in his being. Will he pass the test? Viewers will eventually learn the answer to that question.

RomanJIsraelEsq

Washington is one of those actors who I am convinced can play just about any role. He is solid here again and his identity completely transformed into the bumbling, stammering legal savant who finds no hesitation to go at it with a judge based on principle but who crumbles into a stuttering teenage boy in response to a dinner invitation from a pretty woman.

 

For the first two-thirds, I enjoyed the movie experience and wasn’t really sure where writer-director Dan Gilroy would take viewers. Farrell is strong as always, and I found watching the evolution of both Roman and George compelling. But I will admit that in the final act, the film lost me. I can’t entirely explain what happened but something in the story’s pace changed and it felt lumbering to its inevitable conclusion.  It started as a captivating study of a highly quotable character (two of my particular favorite, though grammatically off-course quotes: “potential, it’s a bitch” and “hope don’t get it done”). But by the end of the film, I found it merely an admirable attempt to depict how one man’s course of self-destruction could potentially inspire someone else to become a better man.

 

Still, the acting in ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is strong enough to garner a watch but I would suggest holding expectations to a minimum.

 

On a scale of 0-100, I give ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. an 80. 

 

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For much of THE FLORIDA PROJECT, I found myself reminiscing about the many strolls down International Drive in Kissimmee, Florida as a young Chicago transplant in the mid-70s. The roadway is symbolic for it serving as a temporary home for tourists landing there from across the world as it lays just outside of the many Orlando tourist attractions, including Walt Disney World. Every souvenir shop captured in the film looked familiar from Orange World to the still-frightening-to-me Gift Shop with its huuuuuge wizard head hovering over you as you enter the shop. But little did I know as a tourist then, and now, that another world existed in that same neighborhood. The faces of poverty and families trying to survive on a day-to-day basis did what they could to create homes amid some of the older motels on the block. THE FLORIDA PROJECT depicts a very different view of Orlando’s “tourist row” in a way that’s sometimes gritty and raw, and at other times joyful and carefree.

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Another similarity this film had with ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ. is my reaction. In fact, I would even say that I loved the film for the first two-thirds or three-quarters of the film and then —- co-writer and director Sam Baker made the decision to take the story in a different direction and to an ending that frankly, boggled my mind a bit. I am all for interpretative endings but this one, well, it just didn’t satisfy this movie goer.

 

Most of the cast will be completely unfamiliar to viewers beyond Dafoe, who is terrific as Bobby, the motel manager of one such complex of what we quickly learn is a modern-day ‘projects’ (hence the name). But he is so much more than his job title. He is a caretaker, a deputy in his own way and our hearts are warmed as we see just how much he cares about the people who show him very little respect most of the time despite his fairness and generosity. The real breakout star is little 6-year-old Brooklynn Prince as Moonee. She is delightful, heartbreaking, funny, powerful and a scene stealer throughout the picture.

 

As I was watching this film and finding myself laughing out loud at times and gasping at others, I thought I honestly might be watching one of my favorite films of the year but given where it ended up taking me, I can’t recommend it as highly as I had anticipated. Catch this one when it comes to your Netflix or Prime subscription and see what you think. Moonee and her mischievous friends do offer some wonderful movie moments together. Thanks for reading. ~ Chris K.

 

On a scale of 0-100, I give THE FLORIDA PROJECT an 83. 

 

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