Plot: Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) has a brilliant legal mind, but his social skills are on the opposite end of the spectrum. His partnership with another lawyer allowed him to handle the technical side of their cases, while his partner was the public face of the practice. This also allowed Roman to work on important cases for civil rights and fighting what he saw as a corrupt system. But when his partner falls into a vegetative state, Roman learns that an outside attorney with a questionable reputation was tasked to close down the office. George Pierce (Colin Farrell) is not someone Roman wants to work with, so he tries to offer his services to an activism center, only to learn that the fight has changed a lot over the years. Tired of sacrificing success and quality of life to pursue what he saw as the right thing, Roman feels worn down and like he has been alone in his struggle all these years. He winds up working cases for Pierce and runs into all kinds of problems, clashing with the less civic minded lawyers and feeling like he has no chance to help anyone. When he faces a potential shift of his entire life, will Roman continue to give up the good life for himself, or will he finally take a piece of the pie for himself?
Entertainment Value: This movie is a little preachy at times, but I found Roman J. Israel, Esq. to be a well made, fun to watch movie. The narrative is a little inconsistent as well, but the movie allows Denzel Washington to carry the picture and in this case, that was a wise choice. Roman is an interesting character and Washington dives into the role fully, giving us a dynamic, memorable performance. I do wish this remarkable character had a richer story to be part of, but Roman is such a unique presence and Washington’s effort is so strong, it makes the material seem stronger than it is. So even when the story dips into mediocre waters, it remains watchable and interesting just on the back of how well this colorful role is played. Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo are solid in supporting roles, but this movie belongs to Washington and he carries it with ease, in one of my favorite roles of his career. As I said, the story is on the thin side and the movie struggles to give the activism aspect depth, which dampens the experience. I also didn’t like how preachy the movie feels at times, especially given how inconsistently it invests into the social justice elements. But the strength of Washington’s performance and magnetic quality of the Roman character ensure the lesser aspects of the movie bring down the overall entertainment value. I had a lot of fun with Roman J. Israel, Esq. and if you like colorful characters, legal oriented dramas, or you’re just a fan of Washington’s work, I give this one a strong recommendation.
No nakedness. Roman is given a love interest of sorts, but the movie never explores it much beyond some awkward encounters. Plus Roman isn’t exactly a people person, so it makes sense that he isn’t a seduction machine. No blood. The movie has no real on screen violence to speak of, so the lack of bloodshed makes sense. This is more of a drama than anything else, with some light thriller elements that come in toward the finale, so no issues on this front. Roman is a fantastic character and he is given a lot of great lines here, which Washington makes the most of. His interactions with pretty much anyone in the movie are hilarious and awkward, even brief exchanges can provide big entertainment. I loved the scene where Roman talks with some some weekend activists, as he is stunned to learn how activism and personal politics have changed, making him feel way out of his element. Roman gets all the good lines in the end, but he has enough to earn some solid points here. As Roman is a quirky, unusual character, the movie does provide some wackiness, mostly in the interactions between Roman and the rest of the world at large. While not over the top craziness, these small, awkward, and hilarious moments do earn a couple points, I think.
Overall Insanity: 2/10