By: Oberst von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) has worked for 35 years in the back room of a small Civil Rights law firm. His partner was the face of the firm, meeting with clients, representing them in court, making public appearances. Roman’s job, on the other hand, was to draft documents and use his encyclopedic legal knowledge to guide strategy. When his partner is hospitalized in a coma, Roman is left to fend for himself and his lack of social skills make that a challenge. It is painfully obvious that Roman is ill-prepared to take on cases for himself. Finally he finds work with the law office run by George Pierce (Colin Farrell) a younger, hungrier lawyer who sees Roman as an idealist and respects him for it, though he finds working with him a challenge. Particularly since Roman has been doing things his way for decades now…
There are things called “Com Pu Tors” Roman…
Desperate to make his own way, Roman begins compromising those ideals in very major ways, making decisions for the first time in the name of financial gain rather than his beliefs.
Denzel Washington should be commended for his excellent performance, which depicts Roman as a proud but socially inept man who has never had a real challenge to his beliefs, having sequestered himself in a office back room for 35 years. Roman is depicted as being autistic, a choice that challenges Washington as he’s never played that sort of character before. He is very much up for the challenge though, and his performance never feels false.
Director/writer Dan Gilroy poses an interesting question through Roman’s downfall. Was Roman a righteous man who was pushed to the edge, or was he inherently prone to temptation from the beginning, just kept away from the dangers of corruption due to his isolated lifestyle? For his part, Colin Farrell is excellent as Roman’s foil. Attorney George Pierce compromised his integrity early on, focusing on a career path of financial gain. But deep inside he has a deep-seated longing to do something significant, and he seeks Roman’s approval for this reason. As Roman begins to fall, George crosses paths with him in another direction, on his way towards a sort of personal redemption.
Dan Gilroy’s screenplay has trouble keeping up with Washington’s performance. Whereas his past film Nightcrawler was a tightly paced thriller, Roman J. Israel, Esq. feels spotty at best. Numerous scenes feel either abruptly shortened or set up subplots that never pay off. This is a movie that could have used some judicious editing to cut out the fat.
It’s not the first time a film relied on Denzel’s acting to save the day…
The film’s biggest flaw is that near the end Roman’s character is given too much of a chance at redemption. The themes that are explored would be far more effective if Roman was allowed to descend more fully into the abyss. Particularly since Colin Farrell’s character gets his own chance at redemption, it lessens the overall impact of the story.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is supremely flawed, but boasts an excellent performance from its lead and supporting characters that make up for many faults.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) Movie Review
Take a Drink: when Roman makes an obviously bad decision
Take a Drink: every time Roman is awkward in public
Do a Shot: each time someone says his full name or he corrects someone on his name