ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (15)
D: Dan Gilroy
Columbia/Macro Media/Topic/Cross Creek/Image Nation/Escape Artists (Todd Black, Jennifer Fox & Denzel Washington)
W: Dan Gilroy
DP: Robert Elswit
Ed: John Gilroy
Mus: James Newton Howard
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.), Colin Farrell (George Pierce), Carmen Ejogo (Maya Alston), Lynda Gravatt (Vernita Wells), Hugo Armstrong (Fritz Molinar)
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a rather average film saved by a very strong performance from its lead actor. Denzel Washington plays the title character, an idealistic civil rights lawyer with a savant-like grasp of facts and figures. Following the hospitalisation of his partner, he takes on the extra workload of cases until his small practice is assimilated by a larger firm, headed by yuppie-like George Pierce (Colin Farrell). Impressed by Israel's legal knowledge, Pierce offers him a job at his offices, but the idealist clashes with others on his quest for civil unity and social justice.
Roman also develops a relationship with local activist Maya Alston and is handed a case to represent a black youth convicted of murder, but when the young man is himself murdered in the penitentiary, Israel sells out and breaks the legal code by pinpointing the real culprit, in exchange for reward money arranged by a group of mobsters.
Dan Gilroy's drama is a peculiar film, the plot neither here nor there and although the performances are fantastic, the muddled story doesn't quite know where to aim for and doesn't quite answer any of the questions that it raises. It also fails to explore Roman J. Israel as a character, hinting at autism but neither confirming nor denying this.
Washington thoroughly deserved the Oscar nomination which he received for his acting portrayal, as he gives the movie credence, but this could have been a much better courtroom drama had the story and direction been less clumsy.