Movie Review: ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ Starring Denzel Washington

Except for his role as Troy Maxon in Fences and 2012’s Flight, Denzel Washington‘s recent roles didn’t seem to be all that challenging. They’ve all been fun to watch, sure, but he could’ve done those recent roles in his sleep.  But as Roman J. Israel, he takes on his most difficult role to date and leaves no doubt that he’s one of the best actors working today.

Israel is an on-the-spectrum lawyer with a brilliant legal mind. He’s like a one-man legal Google, only faster. For years, he’s been a partner in a law firm where he’s been the behind-the-scenes guy. But when his partner has a massive heart attack, the firm must close and he’s forced to find another job.

George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a big time lawyer from a big time Los Angeles firm has been tasked to take over the remaining clients and has offered Israel a position, which reluctantly, he eventually takes. He soon finds success in the firm but that doesn’t stop him from going back to a case he was working on before the death of his partner. The client was accused of murder but was adamant that he didn’t do it. Israel attempts to make things right but for once his brilliance doesn’t help him.

As good as Washington is here, and he is absolutely terrific, the film has some small drawbacks. Mainly, it takes its time to get to where it wants to go. The film could have easily wrapped up in an hour and ½, much shorter than it’s a 2-hour run time.

And you won’t really know the actual plot of the film until the last half hour and then it wraps up pretty quickly after that.

Besides the meandering story, one thing that was odd is that whole story takes place in three weeks. Playing with timeline in films is normal, but this stretches it pretty thin. In 2-weeks, he loses his longtime employment, gets a new job where people immediately don’t like him, moves into a fancy new apartment and becomes an incredible asset to his new firm. There are plenty of other things that happen in the timeline but that would give details away. But still, that’s a lot to happen to someone in three weeks.

All this aside, the film is really just a showcase for Denzel Washington’s fantastic performance. It’s a good bet that writer/director Dan Gilroy couldn’t bear to leave Washington’s performance on the cutting room floor and after you see it, you’ll understand why.