Entertainment » Movies

Roman Israel, Esq.

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 22, 2017
'Roman Israel, Esq.'
'Roman Israel, Esq.'  

"Roman J. Israel, Esq." -- as is hinted at by the title -- is one of those erroneous and exalted grails in the American cinema: A character piece. Directors dream of them, actors seek them, the Academy recognizes them, and producers and audiences shun them. The reason these films are considered with such disparity is they represent ideals that industry people base their careers on and accolades that are almost never realized.

Both the leading actor of this film, Denzel Washington (whose all-star presence has breathed this non-commercial narrative into wide release), and writer/director Dan Gilroy ("Nightcrawler") are baiting this film for Oscar attention. They do this by spending a good deal of time establishing a character that is the antithesis of its actor. And they do it in the most self-conscious and unnatural ways possible, both through appearance (fat suit, bad haircut and big glasses) and attributes (suggestions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and the restricted interests and repetitive behaviors associated with Asperger syndrome). It's a patronizing and poorly conceived way to make a dramatic thriller "important," and it only succeeds in making this movie dishonest.

Fundamentally, Washington's Roman J. Israel is an idealistic criminal lawyer with a commitment to civil rights who lets himself be seduced into criminality by money and power.

When his law partner suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized, this socially awkward attorney must come out from behind his law books to face court and clients. But the cutthroat and moneyed Los Angeles law system doesn't want him. As his desperation increases, Israel has the opportunity to pull an illegal move that will earn some quick money, but will also betray his convictions and his new employer -- the wealthy, attractive and superficial George Pierce (Colin Ferrell).

The money makes everything bad about Roman J. Israel's life turn around, until the consequences and his conscience catch up to him. As the suspense increases, our suspension of disbelief shrinks. And Israel's ideals and his important criticisms of the American legal system (embodied by the activist and potential love-interest Maya Alston [Carmen Ejogo]) become confused and fragmented.

Though this film has been reedited since it first appeared at the Toronto Film Festival, it hasn't been saved from it overwhelming problems. "Roman J. Israel, Esq." is a film that will be disdained by mainstream audiences, hailed by champions of law reform, and panned by the critic. Which category will you fit into?

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Roman J. Israel is an idealistic defense attorney whose life gets upended when his boss and mentor -- the legendary civil rights icon William Henry Jackson -- dies unexpectedly. He's then recruited to join a law firm led by George Pierce, an ambitious lawyer who was one of Jackson's former students. Israel's legacy of activism soon gets put to the test when he takes on the case of Langston Bailey, a young man accused of murdering a convenience store clerk.


Runtime :: 117 mins
Release Date :: Nov 22, 2017
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States


Roman J. Israel, Esq. :: Denzel Washington
George Pierce :: Colin Farrell
Maya Alston :: Carmen Ejogo
Vernita Wells :: Lynda Gravátt
Lynn Jackson :: Amanda Warren
Fritz Molinar :: Hugo Armstrong
Connor Novick :: Sam Gilroy
Jessie Salinas :: Tony Plana
Derrell Ellerbee :: DeRon Horton
Carter Johnson :: Amari Cheatom
Security Bailiff :: Vince Cefalu
Hallway Bailiff :: Tarina Pouncy
Langston Bailey :: Niles Fitch
Court Officer Bailiff :: Jocelyn Ayanna
Prosecutor Michael Wesley :: Eli Bildner
Hon. Adam W. Hilliard :: Robert Prescott
Jeff :: Sedale Threatt
Felicity Ellerbee :: Elisa Perry
James Lee :: Andrew Lee
Lock-Up Guard :: Cynthia Dallas


Director :: Dan Gilroy
Screenwriter :: Dan Gilroy
Producer :: Jennifer Fox
Producer :: Todd Black
Producer :: Denzel Washington
Executive Producer :: Brian Oliver
Executive Producer :: Betsy Danbury
Executive Producer :: Charles King
Executive Producer :: Kim Roth
Executive Producer :: Poppy Hanks
Executive Producer :: Michael Bloom
Executive Producer :: Adam Pincus
Executive Producer :: Aaron Gilbert
Executive Producer :: Alex Lebovici
Executive Producer :: Steve Ponce
Executive Producer :: Derek Dauchy
Executive Producer :: Ben Ross
Cinematographer :: Robert Elswit
Film Editor :: John Gilroy
Original Music :: James Howard
Production Design :: Kevin Kavanaugh
Art Director :: Robert Joseph
Set Decoration :: Meg Everist
Costume Designer :: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Casting :: Victoria Thomas


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