ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ (2017) – My rating: 7.5/10

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a legal drama written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The movie focuses on a lawyer who is forced to start working for a large law firm after his small-firm partner suffers a heart attack.  While the movie never reveals the true condition of the surviving lawyer, I suspect Asperger.  I’m not sure why this was not pursued because I think it’s extremely important to the film. Roman J. Israel, ESQ is a pretty dark  yet insightful story for which I have mixed feelings about.

A lawyer, Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) has always fought from behind the scenes at his small Los Angeles law firm, never taking credit for his work. Additionally, he has spent years on developing a brief that will change the justice system while making a personal decision to not to pursue a family or a normal life in order to fight the good fight. Roman is short on interpersonal skills, but is endowed with legal genius and is the behind-the-scenes brains and partner in a two-partner law firm with his former professor, William Henry Jackson, a civil rights legend who was the public face of their firm. George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a fast-talking and ambitious lawyer who runs his own multimillion dollar practice, has been brought in to help clear the current caseload, and per instructions from Jackson’s family, Roman needs to assist in dissolving the office and getting all their clients transferred over to Pierce.  Now Roman is suddenly forced to take on a lead role. He discovers secrets about his law firm that his partner hid from him. He also finds out that the firm is broke, which forces him to look for a new job after learning some unsettling things his law firm has done against helping the poor and dispossessed, for which he would never approve. While on a job interview, Roman meets Maya (Carmen Ejogo), a community organizer and equal rights crusader. The interview does not go well, but Maya finds herself reaching to maintain her connection with Roman.

He ends up taking a job with George Pierce (Colin Farrell), the person his partner put in charge of the firm, if anything should happen to him. Roman is a poor fit at the big firm but Pierce assigns him several clients due to his brilliance.

One client, Derrell Ellerbee (DeRon Horton), has been arrested for a holdup-murder; he says he did not kill the clerk but is willing to testify against the shooter, Carter Johnson (Amari Cheatom). Ellerbee tells Roman he also knows where to find Johnson. This information should get Ellerbee some form of leniency but Roman negotiates badly with the state’s District Attorney and no bargain is struck.  Ellerbee is murdered before his case goes to trial.

Roman’s mishandling of Ellerbee’s case, causes potential problems for the firm and for himself. Roman contacts relatives of the murdered store clerk and accepts their offer of a $100,000 reward for Johnson’s location. The money buys Roman a new look and a new, cynical attitude. He is better accepted at work, but Roman struggles with his hypocrisy.  Johnson, now arrested, calls the law firm;  At this point the problems get bigger and more complex.  In order to find out the outcome of Roman J. Israel, ESQ, you’ll have to see the film for yourself.  The suspense will keep you guessing right down to the end.  While I wouldn’t recommend this film for everyone, I will say it was well acted and a pretty good story.  Despite the film receiving mixed reviews from critics, Denzel Washington was praised for his performance and was nominated for Best Actor – Drama at the 75th Golden Globe Awards and for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role at the 24th Screen Actors Guild Awards — Check it out!

[Roman J. Israel, ESQ. is Oscar nominated Denzel Washington for Best Actor]

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