By Khaleel Herbert
Veteran actor Denzel Washington plays the thoughtful, outspoken and somewhat goofy Roman J. Israel Esq.
Roman J. Israel Esq. (Esq. is the proper designation for someone who is an attorney), follows the self-titled character diligently working as an experienced ethical lawyer of some odd decades. Roman’s world shifts when he discovers that his partner of the legal law firm he owns, is critically ill after suffering a heart attack.
With his partner in on the verge of death, Roman is forced to find work elsewhere. No family. No car. Roman travels the streets of LA with his two feet, trusty briefcase and headphones to his iPod on his ears. George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a lawyer Roman despises because he only works for dollar signs, offers him clients from his law firm. Roman needs the money and Colin needs Roman.
Roman’s beliefs in the human condition steadily slant. One decision for survival gets him a front row seat to the glamor life (no more Jif peanut butter sandwiches or records for him!) with a brand new apartment, new suits, and a slick new hairstyle (losing his signature afro). But his decision spews unintended consequences.
Roman J. Israel Esq. puts Washington in a goofy position–from his looks, to his gestures. He’s not the man seeking justice by any means like Man on Fire, The Equalizer, or The Magnificent Seven. He somewhat returns to his friendly spirit from The Preacher’s Wife and political fire from Malcolm X. Instead of fighting goons or tyrants, he has to fight himself. He has to battle with the fact that he crossed the line and he can’t go back.
It takes a true actor to dive into different roles. Washington is brilliant and his slight romantic chemistry with Maya (Carmen Ejogo) is a delight to watch. His ability to speak his mind on things that aren’t right is moving.
I have to ding some points off this film for a few things. First, this story is about a lawyer fighting himself and court cases. We only see him in the courtroom once (and he was held in contempt for upsetting the judge). I would have liked to see him actually win some court cases (at least two or three).
Seeing Roman and his partner in some shape or form, even if it was a photo of them side by side would not have been a bad idea either. Roman respected and looked up to his partner as a role-model for his profession. To not even get a glimpse of the man’s face ruins certain scenes for me, especially as the film wraps up. Columbia could have at least slipped in a flashback or two of him giving some ultimate words of wisdom like Uncle Ben did to Peter Parker.
Roman J. Israel Esq., with its imperfections, breaks Washington out of his usual shell keeping him relevant and fresh in 2017 Hollywood.
Studio: Columbia Pictures (2 hr. 9 min.)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Amanda Warren, DeRon Horton, Niles Fitch
Director: Dan Gilroy
Story: A lawyer, deeply rooted in his beliefs of the human condition, struggles on whether or not to adapt his image when his legal partner suffers from a fatal heart attack.
Final Score: B+