Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Crime, Drama
IMDB rating:
Dan Gilroy
Colin Farrell as George Pierce
DeRon Horton as Derrell Ellerbee
Jocelyn Ayanna as Court Officer Bailiff
Hugo Armstrong as Fritz Molinar
Amanda Mason Warren as Lynn Jackson
Amari Cheatom as Carter Johnson
Nazneen Contractor as Melina Nassour (Ass't. DA)
Vince Cefalu as Security Bailiff
Lynda Gravatt as Vernita Wells (as Lynda Gravátt)
Tony Plana as Jessie Salinas
Tarina Pouncy as Hallway Bailiff
Sam Gilroy as Connor Novick
Carmen Ejogo as Maya Alston
Denzel Washington as Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Storyline: ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Colin Farrell costars as the monied, cutthroat lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm.
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File Size 8949 Mb
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File Size 794 Mb
Codec h264
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Another edgy, noir(ish) trip in LA with a glorious oddball
Gilroy scores big with Denzel. It's one of his MAJOR works of the 21st century and it makes me so pleased to see a guy in his 60s who could/should be resting on his laurels with a challenging human being to nail. He does a metric-ton of work to create a completely distinctive introvert/savant person we have never seen him do before and it shows. But Gilroy needed to work more on the script; events move along far too quickly given how much does happen to/by/from Israel, and I feel mixed not so much on the very end but on the climax (spoiler: it confirms a trope raised many times on the "Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time" podcast). So it is good, at times very good. But it's a teeny slump after the knockout of Nightcrawler, which this feels like a cousin to. I wonder now if Gilroy will create his own 'LA Mental Case' cinematic universe (one can also tell that these are very much stories of the American dream and how the system work; the TV network and Farrell's legal office are by the books and full of "normal" people, and who wants that?)
A good movie in there somewhere
There's a good movie in there somewhere within ROMAN J ISRAEL, ESQ. - perhaps more than one. Unfortunately, what is on screen isn't one of them. Writer Director Dan Gilroy famously re-cut the film after it played at the Toronto Film Festival. About a dozen minutes were deleted, some scenes re-arranged and the musical soundtrack was shuffled a bit. Knowing that only re-enforces the notion that the movie is messy.

Actor Denzel Washington is the main reason to see it (nothing too surprising there). As ROMAN begins, it looks as though we are in for a low key character study. Roman works as a partner to who we are told is a legendary attorney with a strong civil rights background. But, Roman is strictly a behind the scenes individual. At one point, he's even termed a savant for his preternatural ability to recall facts. And, savants are said to not be all that comfortable with social interactions - and, HOW with Roman J. Israel! Circumstances occur where Roman's boss becomes incapacitated and he ends up in the clutches of slick lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell; good, but in an underwritten role) who takes over the firm. Soon, Pierce sees the savant in Roman and takes him into his firm. He has also befriended a younger civil rights attorney Maya (Carmen Ejogo; quite fine).

Up until this point the movie is a slow, if decent portrait of an awkward if well-meaning soul. Without delving into spoilers, let's just say that complications soon arise. Now, ROMAN moves into phase two where it tries to play as a more traditional legal thriller. But, the halves don't fit. Even Washington, for all his proficient acting skills, fails to carry his character smoothly between the two parts. Early on, Roman is a kind of endearing shambolic individual. But, in the second half, Washington slips into the sharp-talking Denzel of a FLIGHT or TRAINING DAY. Most of the blame lies with Gilroy, but the actor must bear some responsibility as well. Even worse, the eventual outcomes play to the worst clichés of a law drama. There is a cool twist that could have been great in a more cohesive film.

No matter what was changed from the original cut, little could save ROMAN save for drastic re-shoots. The new music cues are cool to listen to - but, they are little more than background. As stated from the outset, the shame is that Washington is so good here that a simpler character study would have made for a much better, if hardly extraordinary, movie.
Keep on Truckin'
Greetings again from the darkness. Denzel Washington is one of our most iconic actors and he's put together a remarkable career, including 8 Oscar nominations and two wins. He's had his Al Pacino SCARFACE comparable with TRAINING DAY, his Robert DeNiro GOODFELLAS comparable with American GANGSTER, and here he gets his Dustin Hoffman RAIN MAN as he plays the titular Roman J. Israel, Esquire. It's a role that lacks Denzel's usual cool factor, but it's one in which he dives head first.

'Esquire' rates "above gentleman, but below Knight" as described by Roman. He has spent more than 30 years as the wizard behind the curtain of a two man law firm run by his mentor and partner William "Bulldog" Jackson. We never really meet Mr. Jackson, as circumstances force the closing of the firm and shove an uncomfortable-with-change Roman into the high profile and high dollar firm run by George Pierce. Mr. Pierce is played by a strutting Colin Farrell – and no actor peacocks better than he.

It's here we must note that Roman appears to have a touch of Asperger's and/or be some type of legal Savant. He's kind of a Dr. Gregory House for the legal profession – remarkable on the details, while lacking in the delivery. His long held idealism and belief system were in fine form while he was the back office guy, but Pierce forces him into the front lines and it's a bumpy transition with sometimes comic and sometimes tragic results.

The film bookends with Roman crafting a legal brief, that while somewhat convoluted, is actually more of a confession, with himself as both plaintiff and defendant. Much of the film focuses on Roman's idealism and revolutionary beliefs, and what happens when that crumbles. There is an odd quasi-love interest with Maya, played by Carmen Ejogo (SELMA). We never really grasp why she is so taken by him, other than his seemingly solid belief system reminds her that a mission of goodness and justice is always worth fighting for.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy is one of the quiet secret weapons in Hollywood these days. His last project was the terrific NIGHTCRAWLER, and he's also written the screenplays for this year's KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and one of my favorites from 2006, THE FALL. Here he teams with Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD) to deliver a stylish look that feels unique to the story and characters … the frumpy look of Roman, the ultra-slick look of Pierce, and the various textures of the city. It's really something to behold – especially when accompanied by Roman's ringtone of Eddie Kendrick's "Keep on Truckin'". A couple of cast members worth mentioning: for you NBA fans, Sedale Threat Jr (son of the long time player), and simply for catching my eye in the closing credits, an actor named Just N. Time. There is plenty to discuss after this one, but mostly it's a chance to watch Denzel chew scenery.
Never gets to a boil
Denzel Washington can carry a movie and that is the only reason that seeing this movie isn't a complete disappointment. As a Canadian I wondered if the movie never seemed to get out of the gate because I missed Los Angeles cultural nuances that for the conversant made it filled with purpose. I found that the characters had a lot about themselves and their lives that could have been developed, but only the surface was skimmed. Background was in staccato snippets that left a lot on the table in terms of building depth, drawing me in, or giving me a good reason to keep watching. Not all occurrences in the movie were plausible, which is problematic as the movie aims to be realistic. The character of George was unexpectedly interesting, so that added a star to my bottom line.
Extraordinary Film
Probably the best film I have seen this year...and most definitely, Denzel Washington's performance, among the greatest I have ever seen. With this film, he is our most gifted American actor today. Last year at the Golden Globes his mannerism were so idiosyncratic...he must have been still deep inside of this character...most likely, still filming Roman. This film affected me greatly. I am so moved by this character's eccentricity, wit, grace and soul. Brilliant writing and direction. I want to see this picture again.
The Ghost Of Sidney Lumet Lives!
For a split second there, you are watching "Q&A" or any of the other political dramas Sidney Lumet was famous for. Despite what reviewers have said here, this is mature movie that exists in a different time. And it is tragic that it is lost in the dummies of 2017 society.

The story is of a lawyer whose past convictions of social injustices get called to task when his partner suffers a heart attack. Roman is thrust into reality of facing the people who he left a long time ago to be the shadow autistic man content to vomit all sorts of facts without a shred of...personality tolerable to anyone. Everyone who has worked in an office knows this guy. He's aggravating because he only understands a brand of logic that lacks...spirit. He laughs at the wrong moments. And when put in social situations...he will anger you. However, he possesses massive commitment to a social cause. There's a line in the movie where an admirer defends Roman as "we stand on his shoulders." In other words, despite his annoyance...he has contributed to the cause. What cause is the question. The answer? It doesn't matter. The cause is ambiguous other than Black crime and rights. Which isn't the point it's trying to make. I would guess, it means to be anything we have convictions of and lose sight of will ultimately destroy us. Is that a digestible concept. Not to this world. In all honesty, when Roman starts to slip, we are actually much more comfortable. Because we all sell out when times get rough. This is a wonderful film that will be discovered years later. Much like a Sidney Lumet film (can you even name one). I will say, people will watch it and feel shame they didn't seek it out later. Denzel Washington should get nominated here.
Unclear, Unfair, Unsettling, Unsatisfying,
A strange, dark movie that left more loose ends than a frayed rope. It introduced a series of interesting issues and situations, but failed to explore, much less resolve, any of them.

My biggest beef with the movie, besides that fact that it's very slow: After two hours of watching Israel get continually stomped on by life (not just the "impossible-for-the-ungrateful" folks), we end up getting stomped on ourselves, right along with him.

We invest in Roman J. because he's an intelligent, ambitious, compassionate, fair-minded underdog. We stay with him, believing that any moment he'll get some sort of reward. Instead, all he ever gets is hurt. I don't watch movies to see the Good Guys lose; real life shows me enough of that.

The only reason I give even 4 stars is Washington's phenomenal acting. He took this awkward, oppressed, pitiful character and made him so real you'd swear you've met him. There's no sign of the usual gliding, confident Washington walk. No trace of the handsome, swarthy, charismatic Denzel-hunk we've come to love. He IS Roman J. Israel. Come to think of it, that alone might be enough---if you can stand the heartbreak.
Be true to thine Self
I found this to be some of the best work Denzel has done. I thought he hit the nail on the head in terms of helping his viewers feel empathy for the character. I have to be honest here. I strongly believe that if you are in your sixties and of African-American heritage this may really hit home on many levels. In general it is a film about holding on to our core values, then forgetting them to join the rest of societal madness only to realize that you were not alone in your view of the world. Restoring your original core only to pay the price of deserting it in the first place. Everyday we see people forfeit family,love and life for materialistic gains and other power trips. This is also about the change of values from one generation to another in today's world. This is a film with a message that has and will go over a lot of heads judging by some of the bad reviews I've read. Awesome sound track consisting of 60's and 70's soul and rock. Excellent character portrayals by all bar none.
"I am tried of doing the impossible for the ungrateful"
"Roman J. Israel, Esq." (2017 release; 129 min.) brings the fictional story of the title character. As the movie opens, it appears that Roman is preparing a legal filing, where he is both plaintiff and defendant! Huh? We then go back to "Three Weeks Earlier", and we get to know Roman, as his life's circumstances are about to change drastically. Having worked "like the man behind the curtains" in a 2 lawyer criminal defense law firm, Roman's law partner suffers a heart attack and Roman must now pick up the slack, and make court appearances. Rather than ask for continuations, Roman speaks his mind freely, with dire consequences... At this point we are 10 min, into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-director Dan Gilroy, who previously gave us another character-specific vehicle ("Nightcrawler" for Jake Gyllenhaal). Here he creates a role specifically allowing Denzel Washington to shine, and shine Denzel does. In fact, the entire movie rests on his shoulders, playing what appears to be a morally straight-and-narrow criminal defense lawyer who then is presented with moral dilemmas. "I am tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful", remarks Roman. The movie is plot-heavy, and hence I shan't say more, although I will say that there are some plot holes the size of Manhattan, and it's up to you to accept those and move along, or to be bothered and essentially give up. I choose the former. Besides Denzel Washington, there are several other noteworthy performances: Colin Farrell is fine as the big-shot lawyer George Pierce, and even more so British actress Carmen Ejogo as the self-doubting social activist Maya. But in the end it's really the Denzel Washington show. Seems like he really enjoyed himself with this role. Like "Nightcrawler", this movie is ultra LA-centric, playing out mostly in downtown LA with its ritzy skyscrapers. Bottom line: I had my doubts about this movie, and certainly the ambiguous trailer didn't help. But I found myself strangely entertained by this, flaws and all, and these 2 hours flew by in no time.

"Roman J. Israel, Esq." is now into its second weekend in theaters everywhere. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended okay but not great (about 15 people in a huge theater). If you enjoy a movie vehicle that allows Denzel Washington to once again shine and showcase his enormous talents, you could do worse that this. I encourage you to check out "Roman J. Israel, Esq.", be it in theaters, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Definitely no 'NIGHTCRAWLER'.
'ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

The new legal drama from writer/director Dan Gilroy, the very talented filmmaker who also brought us 2014's 'NIGHTCRAWLER' (one of the very best films of that year). Denzel Washington stars (in the title role) as an extremely idealistic lawyer, who finds his morals challenged when he's forced to take on new employment and money becomes increasingly more of an issue. The movie costars Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo. It's gotten mixed to positive reviews from critics, and it's also a modest hit at the Box Office as well. I found it to be a mostly well made, and somewhat interesting movie.

Roman J. Israel (Washington) is an extremely idealistic lawyer who's always tried to maintain his strong morals, by only defending the poor and legally disadvantaged. When his partner has a heart attack, Israel is forced to take on a new employment position, working for a larger law firm under the management of a much more conventional lawyer, named George Pierce (Farrell). Israel feels his new job responsibilities are greatly challenging his long held principles, and money also becomes increasingly more of a challenge for him as well. He soon finds himself questioning his ideals for the first time, and starts making decisions he soon regrets.

The film is definitely no 'NIGHTCRAWLER', so for me it's a disappointment in that way. It's a much more conventional movie, that does have it's darker moments, but it's also a much more traditional crime drama than 'NIGHTCRAWLER' is as well. I think it shows a lot of missed potential too, but Gilroy still shows he has some more than decent filmmaking talent. Washington is also outstanding (like always) in the lead, and his character, while definitely a savant, is still much more relatable and likable than the lead in 'NIGHTCRAWLER' is. The film also seems long and somewhat slow-paced at times, but I mostly enjoyed it.

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