Roman J. Israel Esq. – Film Review by Frank L.
Written and directed by Dan J Gilroy
Stars: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo
The opening scene is a that of a title page of a legal process being typed. The Plaintiff is one Roman J. Israel and the Defendant is one and the same person; Roman J. Israel. This creates puzzlement. The time then switches to three weeks earlier. Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is the backroom partner in a two- man, legal practice concentrating on criminal law. The place is Los Angeles. There is no shortage of clients and Roman does all the office leg work while a Mr. Jackson is the front man and court performer. Mr. Jackson has a severe heart attack which leaves him in a vegetative state. Roman has to go to court to cover for Mr. Jackson where he displays in spades his lack of court room skills. The Jackson family bring in a young go-getting, sharp-dressed lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell) to absorb the practice into his far more glitzy operation. Roman’s unconventional ways are completely upended during the next three weeks.
The female presence is created by one Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo) who heads up a volunteer civil rights organisation. Roman thinks he might be of use to them. She becomes a platonic friend to Roman. However, he seems to lose all perspective in his new role working for George Pierce’s outfit. He has a steady, step by step, professional decline. At one stage he promulgates a good argument against the injustices of the American plea bargaining system where pressure is brought on defendants to admit to a lesser claim so as to avoid a more serious charge with the likelihood of a conviction and many years in jail. Disappointingly, this important issue is lost in the more sensational steps which happen in Roman’s life.
A lot was expected of writer/ director Dan J Gilroy after his previous film Nightcrawler in 2014, which was his directorial debut. He has worked as a writer in Hollywood for many years and was recently involved with main stream hits such as Kong: Skull Island and The Bourne Legacy. Sadly, this new release will do little to enhance his reputation.
Denzil Washington is fine playing Roman J. Israel and so is Carmen Ejogo as Maya Alston. Colin Farell as the sharp suited lawyer was less convincing. The plot devised by Gilroy goes all over the place so the sense of puzzlement created by the initial type writing scene remains dominant. Sadly, the film is muddled.