By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
LOS ANGELES, CALIF--
With his latest movie, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Denzel Washington
steps outside of his comfort zone and delivers a mesmerizing performance unlike any other thus far in his illustrious career.
This is Washington like you’ve never
seen him before.
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Roman J. Israel (Washington) is a brilliant activist attorney who has been practicing law in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. He’s a silent partner at the small firm he works at with his niece, Lynn (Amanda Warren, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
Although Roman suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, it doesn’t hold him back in any way. The guy can rattle off the California legal code and any other legalese you throw at him.
Everything about Roman is old school and actually just screams old. He’s been stuck in a 1960s time warp of sorts. His baggy, wrinkled clothes are out style, his afro—well that’s actually back in style now--his glasses and the bulky briefcase he carries around all just seem out of sorts.
Roman has spent the majority of his career defending those who can’t defend themselves. In other words, mostly poor people. Most of the cases he takes are pro-bono.
As much as he and Lynn want to do the right thing and help those who don’t get a fair shake, doing so doesn’t always pay the bills, rent or buy much good food as evidenced by Roman’s daily meals of peanut butter sandwiches which he eats at his rolex datejust replica watches
hole-in-the wall apartment.
When Lynn informs Roman that the firm’s main partner—who we never see-- has a heart attack and the firm has to move forward or else go under, Roman is cast aside quicker than yesterday’s newspaper.
It’s a cold blow especially since Roman was really the guiding force behind the firm. He believes he should take the reins now. But, the few cases that Roman has presided over have landed him in contempt of court.
So, Lynn decides to turn everything over to a larger legal firm headed by a slick lawyer named George Pierce (a terrific Colin Farrell, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”). George will clean up the finances, get more clients and hopefully get things back on track.
Meanwhile, poor Roman is out of a job. He applies for a position with a non-profit group run by Maya Alston (a terrific Carmen Ejogo, “It Comes at Night”). Maya loves Roman passion, but doesn’t have any money to pay him.
That leaves Roman pondering whether he should throw his ethics aside and work with George (Farrell). After all, this is a guy who is more interested in his bottom line than people. Roman has to do something, because he’s on the road to nowhere right now.
Once Roman agrees to join George, things start out fairly well. George even loves the knowledge that Roman brings to the firm and he has him working on several cases.
However, Roman soon gets caught up in one that truly compromises his integrity and sets him on a collision course that’s difficult to recover from.
“Roman J. Israel, Esq,” from director/screenwriter Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) is such a fascinating character study and Denzel Washington is so astonishing in the role, that you almost overlook the movie’s other shortcomings, notably a saggy middle section and an easy out ending.
Still, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is a good movie that Washington elevates to excellent.
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Check Out This Trailer For "ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ."
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), the Black Reel Awards Voting Academy and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.