Dan Gilroy (director)
01 February 2018 (released)
01 February 2018
Although Denzel Washington received an Oscar nod for his performance in Roman J. Israel, Esq., with people speculating his nomination came at the expense of James Franco after he was accused of inappropriate behaviour by five women, this film is no awards contender.
Writer and director Dan Gilroy's new film tells the story of lawyer Roman J. Israel, Esq., a true believer in social justice, with a history in civil rights activism. Despite his passion, Roman, who sports an afro, unfitting clothes and headphones most of the time, and has a number of ticks and quirks, doesn't often frequent the courtrooms, seemingly because he can't be trusted to not talk back when he feels his client is being wronged. But he's a whizz when it comes to matters of the law, knowing every legal code by number, and a respected member of the law community.
However, when his business partner has a heart attack, old fashioned Roman's world is about to change. After having his offer to take over the practice rebuffed, George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a hotshot lawyer and former student of Roman's partner, offers to take him on.
Installing Roman in an office in his shiny, modern law firm, George utilises Roman's compassion and personal touch when it comes to potential criminal defence clients. And it seems as though his righteous beliefs are rubbing off on hard-faced George, who starts to warm to Roman and even incorporates a social justice agenda into his firm's work.
At the same time, Roman strikes up a friendship with civil rights activist Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo), who credits the veteran lawyer for renewing her own idealism. But her newfound hero is going through a slight identity crisis, and begins to be seduced by greed.
As Roman battles his past and his present, he's suddenly forced to confront a scary situation when a bad mistake he made comes back to bite him.
While there are enjoyable moments, especially the soundtrack, Roman J. Israel, Esq. never really delves deeply into any of its plot points. Despite the two-hour runtime dragging, so much of it felt rushed; one minute Roman is a social justice advocate, and then in the blink of an eye he's lapping up having money. And the character of George switches from smarmy to sweet without warning, helping fulfil Roman's life goal, which was mentioned briefly only once. As an audience member, there's a muddled feeling of confusion that doesn't pass.
The cast did fine in their roles, though this is not Washington's best work, but there's still a massive sense of feeling short-changed when the credits roll.