Roman J. Israel Esq Review – Brilliant Crime Drama Snaking Through The Los Angeles Underbelly

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Roman J. Israel, Esq., from Director Tony Gilroy, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment, was recently previewed at the AFI Film Festival presented by Audi after an introduction conversation highlighting various aspects of shooting in Los Angeles.

Starring Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo, Roman J Israel Esq., also stars Amanda Warren, Vernita Wells, Hugo Armstrong, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton, Amari Cheatom, Melina Nassour, and Just N. Time and was written by Dan Gilroy.

The film begins with Denzel Washington in voice over reading the typing of a brief he is writing in which he is describing gross misconduct for which he believes will lead to his disbarment.

With that the film rewinds three weeks to a series of events that bring the cataclysmic collision of good and evil to a shocking ending. Today, however, we are meeting Roman J. Israel, Esq., the research savant and silent partner of the William Jackson law firm.  A black owned business, that handles criminal defense and they have a full calendar today and every day.

Vernita Wells, played by Lynda Gravatt, the office manager, Executive Assistant, and Administrative support, is answering phones when we find out bad news is here, and it will be life altering for all. In seconds, as she has already listed Jackson’s court calendar for the day. As she explains to Roman its time to step up to the bat as Jackson has had a heart attack and it doesn’t look good. Her last command to a stunned and not too keen on court Israel, is “get a continuance, only a continuance.”

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Simple instructions. As the proverbial torch has passed, Israel decides today is the day he will attempt to alleviate at least one case from the already overburdened Los Angeles county criminal prosecutor’s office. This however, doesn’t go as smoothly in action as it did in his mind.

As the day moved into the next, the diagnosis is worse, Jackson remains on lie support and Roman is now attempting to leverage his options. He is the research savant and silent partner of a very respected L.A. jurist. His credentials and recommendations are never at question nor subject to any scrutiny on the reputation of his employer. However, with all his attributes, Jackson worked often for Pro Bono ensuring those who needed it most had a defense.

 A succession plan was in place, where the office would close and a good friend, George Pierce, played by Colin Farrell, would take over all cases seeing them through to sentencing.

Even as the plan was for severance the firm wasn’t financially able to provide. Israel and Vernita were out in the cold and out of luck.

Roman is idealistic. His belief system is based in a time when a handshake, even for a lawyer, was honored. Where one’s word was as important as one’s actions. And where life wasn’t as complicated with tweets, 24/7 news, overloaded and unstaffed prosecutor’s office who ran the judicial system like an assembly line. He also believed in a wardrobe that hadn’t been replaced, modernized or updated since the 1970’s.

So, our brilliant Roman, with a photographic mind, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, had no people skills and even less fashion sense and as those two qualities are first impression breakers our Roman had very little friends or options.

Today however he wondered into a local pro bono legal society, where he meets Maya Alston, played by Carmen Ejogo. The two hit it off and while he is looking for work. She gently informs him all lawyers work here for free.

So, it was back to Jackson’s succession plan and the trajectory he had carved out for Roman before his death.

This is where the story shift as we meet Pierce, a sharp impeccable dressed criminal defense lawyer who handles the gamut of cases from white collar and well heeled securities fraud and embezzlement to inner city gang related crimes and the entire range in between.

Today he is explaining to Roman his plan for him when a woman who explains her nephew, Derrell Ellerbee, played by DeRon Horton, was arrested for murder of a convenience store clerk and he didn’t do it. He is in LA County lock up and Roman is our best guy and will run point.

From that time on over the course of the next three weeks, we see Pierce, a smooth can sell ice to Eskimos and make them believe they need an ice crushing machine also, partner understanding one thing about business, clients pay the bills and money, retainers, even in the overcrowded judicial assembly line, are just the beginning as every hour can be a billable hour if one understands the nuances of billing.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., is a great film. Denzel is at the top of his game, even as the same words are repeated whenever he releases a new film. He is a solid talent and as Mr. Gilroy said at the AFI Film Festival Conversation "a collaborator in every sense of the word."

Mr. Washington, plays squeaky clean and with one taste of Corporate life he is ready to sell his soul to Satan and in L.A. and everywhere else that is a dangerous game with frightening consequences.

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Roman J. Israel Esq., plays out the life that breeds abuse. Farrell is smooth; he runs a firm, with all the levels of corporate law firm mentality. One does not walk by the beat of a 1970’s I-pod, one walks to a modern beat and dresses to show that also.

The two titans clash on choices and then we are all treated to a surprise.  Carmen Ejogo is very good in what could be considered a three hander, giving the support for public service.

Los Angeles is the backdrop, the fourth character, the city with so much brilliance, so much promise,  the seedy side, homeless encampments (which are real), sidewalk sleepers passed out from alcohol and drugs, gangs and guns, which make life challenging for many and clearly for the criminal judicial system, is rarely ever seen, with Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills and the million dollar views everyone’s dream.

Roman J. Israel Esq., is playing in select cities across the country with a wide release this Thanksgiving. A brillant, powerful crime drama, extraordinary and well-crafted, with an equally impressive cast, and challenging story. See it.


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