19 January 2018 | kckidjoseph-1
Piercing the Soft Underbelly of the American Legal System
In "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," a drama written and directed by Dan Gilroy with Denzel Washington in the title role, the American legal system and the people who must somehow operate within its confines are exposed for what they are: an uneven mix of good and bad, with the tilt toward one or the other dependent as much or more so on the moral compass and grit of the individual as on circumstance, no matter how imposing or seemingly impossible they might be.
When someone asks criminal defense lawyer Roman what the "esq." on his business card is for, he replies _ proudly, with a wry grin: "A little above gentlemen and a little below knight." He might have added, a little below knight in white shining armor and a lot above an uncaring, fee-collecting robot.
Roman has spent his life fighting small injustices on behalf of the disenfranchised, a fight for which he has never been given credit while giving it everything he has, including sacrificing any kind of personal life to do it. He's been the real brains behind a small two-partner law firm he's formed with his former professor, and while tackling unglamorous cases he also has been assembling a brief that will change the class action portions of the justice system forever.
When his partner, in no small way the front man, has a heart attack and is incapacitated, Roman learns that the firm is in fact broke and has been much less altruistic than he was aware, something his former professor kept secret from him.
Roman subsequently applies for a job with slick young attorney George Pierce (Colin Farrell), whom his partner put in charge if something were to happen to him. it's an uneasy fit from the beginning, and Roman finds himself almost immediately morally and ethically challenged, not only in his interpersonal approach to clients and cases but in who he can defend and why.
When he tackles the case of a young African-American man arrested and charged with murder during a convenience store holdup, he begins to question everything he is and has done.
What Roman decides to do, and the consequences of his actions, are the core of a story that reflects scores of small real-life dramas playing out across the country well off the front pages, but significant in how they shape our beliefs and culture.
This may be Washington's finest work yet, a quiet if somewhat klutzy Everyman whose legal genius has both separated him from the norm while thrusting him into its very heart and soul.
This also may be Farrell's best film turn to date, an understated performance that stabs at the soft underbelly of our legal system.
The rest of the supporting cast _ including Carmen Ejogo, Amari Cheatom, DeRon Horton, Amanda Warren, Nazneen Contractor, Shelly Hennig, Joseph David-Jones and Andre T. Lee _ are uniformly excellent in their restrained intensity.
At once uplifting and disturbing, "Roman J. Israel, Esq." is outstanding on all counts.