Roman J. Israel, Esq is the most surprising movie I saw this year. The ads were uninspired and the reviews were paltry. At first blush the title seems stupid, too, but all it takes is the opening scene and voice-over to change that. Written and directed by the multi-talented Dan Gilroy the film explores justice, temptation, greed, duty, vocation, and purpose.
The title role is filled to the brim by the legendary Denzel Washington. It’s is as committed, nuanced, and fully realized as he’s been in over a decade. After his long-time law partner dies, the office-bound Roman Israel is forced to cope with tough realities of the callous deal-making and no-win mandatory minimums of the criminal justice system. The former civil rights activist and once pure Israel finds momentous change when confronted by the slick big-shot attorney embodied phenomenally by Colin Farrell. Farrell, like Washington, excels. He’s come into his own as a character actor in the second chapter of his career and here he plays a confident shark, but also a still listener.
The best thing about the movie is that roadmap is unpredictable. Because the driving character is quirky and abandons his steadfast reliability the audience emotes with him. Certainly, there are moments when the script gets funky, and the ending may not totally satisfy, but Roman J. Israel, Esq is a very good (and surely rewatchable) film and is top-shelf Denzel canon.