On the surface, ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)’ is a simple movie about a simple man, under the surface though, the film attempts to tackle some serious societal issues. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel a very private yet driven idealistic defense attorney who serves the oppressed and underprivileged people of Los Angeles. After his law partner and the public face of his firm, William Jackson becomes ill Roman finds himself without a job. When Israel gets recruited by a big city firm, he finds himself battling an internal struggle between serving the people or selfishly doing what is best for himself.
As I had mentioned earlier, 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' is a simple film that tries to tackle some important issues in our society. As a simple story about an everyday man who wants to help others, the film works. It is the parts of the film that focus on the civil rights issues that felt out of place to me. The film pivots at a few different points into this subplot that tries to address some hot-button civil rights issues, but it felt very forced and resulted in the story feeling a bit disjointed. Other than the fact that they were trying to build Denzel character, I couldn't figure out why it was necessary that writer and director Dan Gilroy kept trying to bring the civil rights subplot to the center of the film. While I did enjoy the film overall, I would have liked to have seen Gilroy focus more on the title character's central storyline and less on trying to force hot topic societal issues into the narrative.
Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo costar alongside Washington. Farrell as a cutthroat lawyer and owner of a major downtown law firm who recruits Roman and Ejogo as a volunteer who works for a civil rights non-profit firm. While both Farrell and Ejogo provide strong performances, it is Denzel Washington's excellent performance as the title character that saves the film. The role of Roman Israel is very complicated, he is someone who wants to do good, but he struggles with a mental disorder that results in minimal people skills, making it very difficult for him to play well with others and eventually it gets him into trouble.
While ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)’ does struggle to figure out what it wants to be, I did enjoy it overall and feel it is well worth a watch. I would have preferred if Gilroy wouldn't have kept trying to bring the civil rights issues to the surface of the film and instead had just focused on the title characters simple "everyday man" storyline. I give 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' a 6 out of 10.