Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Written and Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Amari Cheatom, Amanda Warren and Sam Gilroy
Run Time: 2h 9min
Genre: Crime, Drama
3 ½ Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Another fabulous film coming at you before we close out 2017 is Roman J. Israel, Esq. If you love Denzel Washington, see it now because in this film you’ll see him, simply put, in a way you’ve never seen him before. His character Roman is a criminal attorney with a civil-rights background who has been working for low wages for thirty-six years. Instead of becoming a lawyer to get what he can out of people who hurt for his expertise those most, he became one because he’s passionate about helping those individuals who are in desperate need. He fights for those who have been wronged and despairs when he sees the lawyers of the day allow their first-time offenders to receive sentences of ten years in prison rather than spending the time to go to bat for their clients as they should. Roman J. Israel, Esq., so named for the dignity the title possess, is a bit of an egghead and a savant, with a photographic memory. He believes in social justice and wants to do the right thing as did his mentor and his hero’s but as it becomes harder to be an idealist in a world who’ll fight you tooth and nail for their right not to be protected, Roman feels the earth his career was based on begin to shift out from under his feet. That earth is not as steady as it once was.
Washington brings Roman to life so convincingly that you wonder if this wasn’t the real Washington all along. Going through the loss of all that is dear to him, Roman gets upset and nervous and it shows. When he’s most troubled, Washington gives him ticks such as playing with his glasses, pulling at his hair. He displays other behavioral abnormalities that ultimately sell the role. His performance is magnificent and as the story builds to its inevitable conclusion the more you’re lost in this character and feel for his circumstances. We learn he’s a forceps baby which tells Roman that he’s fully aware of this world not being one he wanted to enter, especially since he sees what others choose to ignore but in a city that has hardened from corruption, his heart has remained in the right place… until now, that is.
His partner and owner of the law practice, a well-known civil-rights litigator by the name of William Jackson, falls very ill. While he’s in the hospital, Roman, who has always been the brains behind the operation doing a lot of the grunt work, takes on the cases. He’s only to go to court and get continuances for the cases but due to his strong beliefs, he can’t help but get involved to try and right what he sees is wrong and fight against the racism, greed and authoritative tendencies of society in the United States and its court system.
George Pierce (Farrell), who was a former student of Jackson’s, handles the liquidation of the company after Jackson’s death and has to let Roman go. Aware of his intelligence, George hires him for his company and the story picks up speed. A lot of the dialogue here seems very deliberate, to speak of what is going on in the country today which, if you’re following politics at all, you could find very engaging and appreciate hearing. It isn’t tedious and it doesn’t assault you but watching an optimist become a realist the way writer/director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) shows Roman slowly become is both heartbreaking and frightening. Working for George isn’t easy for him because he’s forced to do what he hates and he metamorphoses into what he ultimately despises. He also becomes ‘Tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful.’ However, as Roman loses himself, we see who he is turning around and that is someone with the power and control to achieve what Roman sadly never could.
I recommend Roman J. Israel, Esq. for anyone who likes a powerful story with characters driven not by lust or ambition but by the dedication and the commitment to do what’s right. This is a heavy drama that requires your full attention and once you give it you’ll applaud what you get in return.