Roman J Israel is another great performance by Denzel Washington in a story about tarnished idealism, temptations to betray principals, and the problems with our criminal justice system.
The title character is a partner in a small public interest law firm that specializes in defending unjustly accused African-Americans. While a brilliant legislative researcher and passionate defender of justice, Israel lacks personal skills so his partner acts as the public face of the firm.
The film begins with the partners death and his family decision to liquidate the firm. This forces Roman to find other employment. Fortunately, a lawyer with a high-prices boutique firm (played by Colin Farrell) who was tasked with overseeing the firm’s liquidation offers Israel a job doing research for the firm. At first, Israel rebukes the offer but after being turned down by a local activist group that can’t afford to hire him, he takes the job.
At first, Israel’s tenure at the firm seems like it will be a short one. He clashes with one of the senior partners and gets into trouble by taking it on himself to negotiate a plea offer without running it by the client. But eventually he proves his worth and the lawmaker who recruited him decides to help him with his major project: a massive legal brief explaining how bush (abuse) of plea bargains denies the accused their right to a fair trial.
Unfortunately, Israel experiences a crisis and decides to betray his ideals, his code of conduct, and the law for material gain. I won’t spoil how it occurred or what the ending was because I want you to see this movie.
The film also benefits from a subplot of the relationship between Israel and the woman he interviews with at the activist group. Even though she can’t hire him, she does respect and admire his work. She arranges for him to speak before a group of college students which goes horribly wrong when he inadvertently violates modern politically correct etiquette.
Roman J Israel, Esq. is an entertaining and thought-provoking look at how even the most dedicated to social and political change can fall prey to cynicism and abandon their ideals. It also looks at some of the issues surrounding our criminal justice system. It also reminds us why Denzel Washington is one of, if not the finest, actors working today.
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