September 11, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Disobedience” & “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”


DISOBEDIENCE (no distrib):  Sebastian Lelio’s adaptation (with Rebecca Landiewicz) of Naomi Alderman’s novel is one of the surprises of the festival.  It would be perfectly reasonable for the idea of Rachel McAdams as a Chassidic woman to bring back memories of Melanie Griffith in the camp classic A Stranger Among Us (and at least Griffith had the excuse of playing an undercover cop), but actually McAdams may give the performance of her career here, absolutely committed and deeply moving.  The story is set in an Orthodox Jewish community in a London suburb, where Ronit (Rachel Weisz, also one of the producers), who has been long gone pursuing her secular life as a photographer in New York, returns upon the news of the death of her father, the rebbe.  She is stunned to discover that her two best friends, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (McAdams) have married, and while we at first might think that her discomfiture is related to jealousy for Dovid, we come to realize that it was Ronit and Esti who had a forbidden relationship as young women.  All these emotions seethe for a while, held in check by the rigid rules of the community (Lelio shoots in an almost monochromatic palette to convey the literal lack of color that surrounds the characters), but eventually they have to burst, and there will be more than one comparison of the key sequence with Blue Is The Warmest Color.  Weisz is superb throughout, and Nivola accomplishes the difficult feat of making Dovid a fully-rounded character even though he’s the odd man out in the equation.  Lelio isn’t interested in finding villains, and even the most repressed of the elders are treated with respect.  Mostly, though, the film belongs to McAdams, who takes a fiendishly difficult role that could have gone horribly wrong in multiple ways, and makes the character not just believable but inspiring.

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (Columbia/Sony – November 3):  A big swing by writer/director Dan Gilroy, whose last film was NightcrawlerRoman J. Israel, Esq. is a legal drama without a Big Case, or even much of a story about a legal practice.  Instead, it’s a character study of an attorney (Denzel Washington) whose affect is somewhere on the Aspergers scale, and whose principles and ethics are the keys to the story.  Despite the presence of Washington, with a premise like that, a film is either going to be an Oscar contender or fall between the cracks, and Roman only sporadically hits the heights it’s aiming for.  The contrived storyline presents Roman as a sort of legal Rain Man, who knows every statute and case citation, but can’t be trusted to deal with clients.  When the partner who sheltered him is taken ill, for some reason he’s hired by a slick firm headed by Colin Farrell (in his element).  Roman also attracts public interest lawyer Maya (Carmen Ejogo), who finds his awkward and pugnacious idealism charming.  Roman wrestles with life in the real world, battling between the need to make money and his aspirations to practice socially uplifting law.  Eventually he faces a moral crisis that brings the saga to a conclusion both melodramatic and sappy.  Washington, not usually perceived as a character actor, works like hell to make Roman a recognizable human being, and he has moments that are both charming and wrenching.  The script, though, which goes on for 134 minutes, tosses Roman in one direction, then another without much attention to logic.  Roman Israel, in the end, can’t manage more than a hung jury.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."