ROMAN J ISRAEL ESQ Review – A Little Something for the Denzel Washington Fan in All of Us

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Roman j israel esq reviewROMAN J ISRAEL ESQ Review by Staci Layne Wilson

Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, was a mean, dark and dirty L.A. noir satire about today’s bloodthirsty media. His much-anticipated follow-up, Roman J. Israel, Esq., is a legal drama that also takes on a hot-button topic – namely, civil rights.

Denzel Washington is in the titular role as a socially-awkward warrior for social justice. He’s a brilliant savant, somewhere on the spectrum, which keeps him out of the spotlight and happily toiling away behind the scenes as the silent partner in a law firm that specializes in criminal cases and pro-bono work representing L.A.’s neediest.

At first, it would appear the fictional film is set in the 1970s – Roman wears a rumpled polyester suit or a dashiki and dungarees; his rundown bachelor apartment is decorated with posters of Angela Davis and Bayard Rustin; there are reams of papers stacked everywhere; shelves of LPs; and his kitchen is stocked with jars of Jif peanut butter. But no. It’s present day, and Roman is the one out of time.

When his mentor and employer dies suddenly, Roman finds himself stranded. He’s jobless and without purpose. He tries to get work with a non-profit outfit run by Maya (Carmen Ejogo), but he’s just too much of a relic for the hip new breed of PC activists to accept. The legal lifer gets his much-needed break at a tony L.A. practice run by George (Colin Farrell), a former student of Roman’s departed partner. The new firm is all about the money, and before long the once-crusading Roman falls prey to the temptation of greed.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., has its moments – thanks mostly to the ever-watchable Washington – but it’s heavy-handed in its message. The plot-points fall into place in a too-pat way, making the story feel spoon-fed and ultimately contrived. I expected much more from Gilroy.

If you’re a Denzel fan – and who isn’t? – see Roman J. Israel, Esq., anyway. He’s great, and while the presentation is ponderous, its heart is in the right place.

Run time: 2hr 2min
Rating: PG-13

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by Staci Layne Wilson



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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Lee Winfield on November 30, 2017 at 10:00 am

    My take-away from the film was how the Criminal Justice System does not work for defendants, that do not have the resources and access to be on equal footing with the state. Although the Social Justice plot lines were relevant, to often the state forces defendants to accept a Plea Deal and threaten you with excessive time if you are convicted at trial and given heavy fines. Conversely, I liked the way Denzel ‘s character personified a Public Defender in the actual Criminal Justice System. His portrayal was more the rule rather than the exception.

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