Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Posted: November 24, 2017 at 1:44 a.m.

Denzel Washington takes on the role of a socially incompetent legal savant in Dan Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel, Esq.

You get the sense Denzel Washington is looking for new mountains to climb. Having previously ascended all the smaller peaks en route to summiting on Mount Icon, where he firmly planted his flag, Washington has been in search of new territory.

The last couple of years has seen him swinging back and forth between labors of love and much more conventional movie star gumbo. You can imagine a man with his extraordinary talents and proclivities would relish the opportunity to try something different and counter to his image, and in portraying Dan Gilroy's title character, he has certainly found one.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

82 Cast: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Hugo Armstrong, Nanzeen Contractor, Lynda Gravatt, Sam Gilroy

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Roman J. Israel is a longtime behind-the-scenes criminal and civil rights lawyer with a direct and somewhat peculiar way of going about things. Working with his longtime partner, a man we never meet but are told about in hallowed tones, Roman was allowed to be master of his own tiny domain, making $500 a week using his savant-like memory and legal mind to trapeze around in law books, filing motions, setting appeals, and living a bit like an eccentric scientist left to his own set of beakers in an otherwise empty laboratory.

With his penchant for jazz -- he nearly always has headphones on when enduring the outside world -- and his passion for social change and advocacy, he makes for a fascinating sort of character, but a pretty dubious lawyer. This only becomes more obvious when his longtime law firm partner has a heart attack and is in a vegetative state. Another lawyer is brought in by the family to clean up the books and close out the remaining cases, and that's when Roman's carefully laid-out life becomes turned upside down. The lawyer, George Pierce (Colin Farrell) is everything Roman is not: successful and slick, with a host of expensive tailored suits, a ripping BMW, and a booming firm of his own in a swank L.A. high-rise. Seeing something of his old mentor -- Roman's former partner -- in him, Pierce brings Roman on board, shuttling a sweep of low-income cases his way, despite Roman's obvious discomfort at working in such a place.

It is not a good fit, to say the least, and inside of a week, Roman has insulted the other bigwigs, misrepresented a client, and put himself on the precipice of being fired. Quite literally having nowhere else to go, not even a civil rights organization led by the captivating Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo), who sees in him something of an inspiration, Roman is forced to make do as best he can until fate throws him a different possibility.

Washington clearly has a lot of fun inhabiting Roman's shambling gait, his social miscues, and his inability to stay his mouth, even when its clear its to his detriment. In one memorable scene, with Roman appealing for a job, his embarrassment and humiliation actually bring tears rolling down his cheeks. It is through Washington's genius, the suppression of his formidable star power, that makes a man like Roman able to slip through the streets with his enormous briefcase, virtually unnoticed.

Gilroy could have played this as a show of the character's honor, a testament to his super-human convictions, but instead, we see Roman as vaguely pathetic, aging right out of contemporary culture. At a civil rights meeting set up by Maya, he doesn't last three minutes in front of the group before running afoul of millennials who take umbrage with his sense of decorum.

The ending of the film comes abruptly, with much relying upon a peculiar and not entirely convincing change of heart from a character previously shown to be rather heartless.

MovieStyle on 11/24/2017