Friday, March 30, 2018

Roman J. Israel, Esq.: Drama, Thriller -- Winner!

Movie Review: Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

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.

Denzel Washington as Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Colin Farrell as George Pierce
Carmen Ejogo as Maya Alston

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is described in as "a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system." I would describe it as a drama heavy on the injustice of the overburdened criminal court system with much less of the thriller. The thriller comes at the very end -- no spoilers here.

Roman Israel is savant in a small but determined civil rights law office serving the under-served victims of the justice system. His partner is a brilliant attorney who brilliantly represents their clients in court, while Israel does all the research and case preparation back in the office. His partner has all the authority of accomplishment while Israel has all the legal smarts. But Israel's partner has a heart attack and dies, and his family decides to liquidate the firm, turning over everything to friend and legal mentee George Pierce. Pierce brings Israel into his own legal firm out of respect for the partner and in deference to Israel, who has no other prospects for employment.

Israel has personality quirks, making him difficult to work with and difficult on his clients. But what we come to find is that he has a brilliant legal mind. And Pierce, who is at first reluctant to keep Israel on the payroll because of mistakes in his handling of cases, comes to appreciate Israel's strategies and perspectives. Remembering the devotion to justice the partner taught him in law school, Pierce has a change in heart, reorganizing his law firm and re-energizing Israel's mission. But just as Israel and Pierce's relationship begins to warm, other things take a turn for the worse.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is played by Denzel Washington, who brings heart and soul to the role. Is there anything he can't play with brilliance? Colin Farrell plays Pierce with intensity. He often plays a bad guy and here he starts off as one yet turns it around into a good guy like the flip of a coin. And for Israel there is an awkward but growing love interest, Maya Alston, played with energy yet earnestness by Carmen Ejogo. It's a fine cast that plays with your emotions and tugs at your heart in a story that could easily just be an angry rant about life in "the underbelly of Los Angeles". This film is really an uplifting story about rising above the underbelly.

Don't look at Roman J. Israel, Esq. as being about urban life; look at it as being about doing your utmost with what you have, about making the most of your talents despite the obstacles built up around you. The tragedy isn't where you live or how you live, but not allowing where and how you live to keep you down. Roman J. Israel, Esp. -- he kept emphasizing the "Esquire" throughout the movie -- rose above it all. We can all relate to that message. See it!

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