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MOVIE REVIEW

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for language and some violence.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Young Adults • Adults
Genre:
Legal Crime Drama
Length:
2 hr. 9 min.
Year of Release:
2017
USA Release:
November 17, 2017 (4—select theaters)
November 22, 2017 (wide—1,648 theaters)
DVD: February 13, 2018
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

Dealing with the death of one’s mentor

Lawyers who defend criminals

Reform needed in plea bargain cases

What does the Bible say about…

Law

Justice

Justice of God

Judges in the Bible

Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Answer

What is THE FINAL JUDGMENT OF GOD? Answer

Breaking the law

How can I know what is RIGHT and WRONG? Answer

How can I discern whether a particular activity is WRONG? Answer

What is LOVE, for a follower of Christ? Answer

Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

What is GOODNESS?

What is RIGHTEOUSNESS? Answer

goodness of God

Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

Activism for civil rights / equal rights

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Featuring: Denzel WashingtonRoman J. Israel, Esq.
Colin FarrellGeorge Pierce
Carmen Ejogo … Maya Alston
Lynda Gravatt (Lynda Gravátt) … Vernita Wells
Amanda Warren … Lynn Jackson
Hugo Armstrong … Fritz Molinar
Sam Gilroy … Connor Novick
See all »
Director: Dan Gilroy—“Nightcrawler” (2014), screenplay of “The Bourne Legacy” and “Real Steel” (2011)
Producer: Jennifer Fox
Todd Black
Denzel Washington
See all »
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

Roman J Israel, Esq. is a very quiet man. He’s worked with the same law firm and partner for the past few decades. Roman and his partner primarily serve pro bono those who cannot otherwise afford to defend themselves. Roman prefers to be the “behind the scenes” or “can we settle” guy of the law firm, always at his partner’s beckoning hand. And if there’s anything Roman has enjoyed, it has been stability.

Roman’s life gets turned upside, however, when his partner ends up in the hospital with a serious illness from which he will never recover. After being informed that his firm will be closing for financial reasons, Roman must seek employment from a young hot-shot lawyer named George Pierce. Along the way he meets a young activist named Maya who reminds Roman of his former life in civil rights activism. As Roman’s past starts to dictate his life again, he faces a series of events that begs him to redefine the true meaning of the word “justice.”

Walking into the theater, I wasn’t sure if “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” was going to be my kind of movie. I am not the type who usually goes to legal-dramas, so, for me, this was a leap of faith. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. Now granted, the film isn’t one of the strongest I’ve seen Denzel Washington in (in my opinion his strongest are “Remember the Titans” and “Unstoppable”), but he certainly gives a strong performance in this film.

It is Denzel’s performance, as others have pointed out, that carries most of the weight of this film and that allows it to succeed and for plot pacing to remain relatively smooth. I would suspect that without Denzel Washington’s strong performance the film would likely have suffered in several key moments (which I won’t spoil here in my review).

One small annoyance is the rhetoric that Roman spouts off. Granted, this kind of philosophical language is critical to establishing his character, but at times it got so deep my head started to spin. Overall, though, this is a relatively strong film.

One of the central themes is “justice.” Throughout the entire course of the film Roman questions his own personal view of justice. Man’s view of justice and God’s view of justice are not always in agreement. God’s justice is always right and good, taking everything into account and cannot be swayed or altered. Sinners who reject Christ’s free gift of salvation and remain lost in their sins when they die will be called to the throne of God to await their final judgment. Each of will be accountable for their actions and will be judged using God’s justice. The Bible has much to say on God’s justice:

“I said to myself, ‘God will bring both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed’.” –Ecclesiastes 3:17

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it,
Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” —Revelation 20:11-15

“My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” —Isaiah 26:9

But know this, God calls all of us to Him to be in his presence and to follow Him before the day of Judgment. He does not wish for any of us to perish. Look at these verses, with this in mind.

Final Thoughts

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is a fairly well made film, but it’s not one that will go in the record books as one of the world’s greatest, and it seems unlikely to win many Oscars® in February, but, if anything, it does show the Washington’s flexibility in taking on roles outside his normal comfort zone. My grade for this film? A solid B-.

  • Violence: Moderate— • Personal attack at night for money • Murder scene (shot to death—killing heard but not seen) • Roman encounters a person that he believes is dead, but is not. • Mention of man murdered in jail • Roman’s life is threatened by a prisoner
  • Profane language: Heavy— • “J*sus Chr*st,” “J*sus” (5), “Chr*st,” “Dear J*sus,” “G*d d*mn” (2), “d*mn,” “h*ll” (3), “Dear Lord,” “Oh G*d,” “Swear to G*d” (2)
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Heavy— • f-words (3), “a**-hole” (2), “a**” (2), “bullsh*t,” “sh*t,” “It's an enema of sunshine,” “You p*ssed on her deal,” “Potential’s a b*tch,” bast*rds
  • Nudity: None
  • Sex: Small kiss

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Neutral
Neutral—I just wanted to know if it was based on a true story? Government cannot solve all of our social problems nor can tax payers afford it. Individual responsibility is what must be expected of people. The Christian Church has a role in society that changes lives through the preaching and teaching the gospel and the Bible and local Church discipleship. The US Constitutional Republic form of Government is the best way the facilitate this.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Victor Garcia Sr, age 61 (USA)
Editor’s Note: This movie is fictional, not a true story. The screenwriter is Dan Gilroy who also wrote “Nightcrawler” (2014), “Kong: Skull Island” (2017), “Real Steel” (2011), “The Bourne Legacy” (2012). His wife is actress Rene Russo.

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Secular Movie Critics
…A nervy, compelling performance from the Oscar-winning actor dominates this unconventional morality play… Israel is a by-the-book, true believer in the importance of following the letter of the law. When he’s finally allowed inside a courtroom, he’s dismayed that in practice those around him aren’t quite as steadfast… [4/5]
Benjamin Lee, The Guardian (UK)
…This nervy, admirably cerebral story…has many fine and noble qualities. …a typically studied, finely calibrated performance from Washington, evocative use of downtown Los Angeles locations, a magnificent soundtrack of vintage funk and soul… Unfortunately, something at the center just doesn’t hold…
Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter
…“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” wastes a Denzel Washington performance… simultaneously too much story to tell and not enough; unable to pick a lane, it gets bogged down in uninteresting details… Dan Gilroy’s legal drama tries to tackle the American justice system, the death of activism, and a pulpy crime story all at once. …
David Sims, The Atlantic
…Denzel Washington is a great character in a dull movie… clearly, Gilroy had a blast conceiving this character — and the symbolic ramifications of his beliefs count for something. “I’m tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful,” he says, clarifying the movie’s themes. …
Eric Kohn, IndieWire
…It’s almost good—in that way that makes it all the more disappointing that it doesn’t really work. …Denzel Washington's new movie, has the attention span of a squirrel…
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox
…a film whose protagonist and plot are out of sync… Gilroy's screenplay undermines his character study… Throughout Dan Gilroy’s film, a promising character study is smothered beneath lazy genre machinations. …
Oleg Ivanov, Slant
…though the film is completely worth seeing just to experience such a totally realized performance and hear Gilroy’s always sharp dialogue, the reality and complexity of the character turns out to clash with plotting that is not as convincing. …Denzel Washington's remarkable performance…isn't helped by plot…
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times