Dan Gilroy & Denzel Washington trimmed and re-edited ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ after TIFF

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I dug Roman Israel, ESQ. I didn't expect it to have the mixed reviews it received at TIFF this past September. Yes, the movie is a mess, but I thought that was part of its charm [Full REVIEW] It's a messy ambitious account of a messy, ambitious man. Some, make that many, movies go back to the cutting room floor after a festival showing. I mean, it's common sense to feed off of the reactions from critics and audiences alike and better your movie, but what Gilroy and Washington seemed to have done here is a complete overhaul of the narrative structure and tone of the film. The fact that they "reordered" scenes says everything you need to know about what is going on here. They also cut off a subplot, there are a few so I'm not sure which specifically, and that's something that can also impact the film differently. Music cues were changed, but, here's the gimmer for me, 12 minutes were cut from the film. You hear some directors say they cut 2 or 3 minutes, such as what Ruben Ostlund told me he did with his Palme D'or winning "The Square" after having won the prize, but 12 minutes, that can really change a movie. I wasn't going to rewatch "Roman Israel, ESQ," I thought I was satsfied enough by what I saw last month, but now it's back on my must-see list. If it is indeed a better film than that which I saw at Toronto then I'll be very ecstatic about it.

Here's Gilroy talking about the changes to Deadline:

"The first time we actually showed the film to a real audience was in Toronto. We went right from the cutting room to the Ryerson Theatre. We wanted to make that festival but realized, watching with that crowd, that Denzel so inhabits and embodies his character that we could lean much more into the plot than we had. We re-conceived the balance of the movie, in crucial sections. The day after Toronto, Denzel and I went back into the cutting room and spent weeks making changes. Not just to the pacing. We reordered scenes, we changed elements, particularly with Colin’s character."

"That Staples Center scene is crucial not just for Colin’s character but in establishing the tone of the movie, and at Toronto it came near the end, at a point where the suspense part of the story is in such high gear that you can’t even register what Colin is saying and what it means to Roman. We put it much earlier where it becomes more of a pillar for the film. And by doing that, we also then cut out one of the subplots which established the same kind of internal conflict in Roman."

"We weren’t worried. We looked at it as a very high end test screening. We had the time, the resources, and Denzel and I had been collaborating so closely that we said, let’s go do this. Movies are forever, that’s the way Denzel and I look at it. And a screening for 1200 people in Toronto is not going to define for us what the final version of the movie is. What we did here was strengthen and refocus a film we were already really proud of. We also cut a lot, over 12 minutes of the movie. You’re looking at a film where we’ve cut any fat, right down to the muscle. We realized that Denzel’s character was so strong that we could lean more into the plot around him. You’ve never seen him vulnerable like this; it’s a major transformation, physically and emotionally. Watching it with an audience, we realized that beyond his character, there’s a story here that was going to operate better if it was tightened and refocused. That was really the beginning of us getting to change things, including the music cues."

"Denzel brought so much to the editing room. He has directed three and starred in what, over 40 films? He has incredible instincts for pacing, for story, for finding false notes and knowing when a scene is sagging. He is very objective in taking outside opinions like the ones we got in Toronto, and listening to them. He’s unique that way; a lot of actors can only focus on their own character. I would not usually be inclined toward having an actor come in to the cutting room, but every day, I looked forward to Denzel coming in. The two of us worked so closely with my editor brother John to get to this place. Denzel was an invaluable resource on every level."

"We love our film and we’re showing to certain people who hadn’t seen it before and we’re getting incredible response. Denzel loves it, and his character, evidenced by his coming in and working all these weeks with us to get the film exactly where we wanted it to be."
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