Roman J. Israel, Esq.

(USA 2017)

“Each one of us is greater than the worst thing we’ve done.”

“[Esquire] is a title of dignity. Slightly above gentleman, below knight.”

— Roman J. Israel

I didn’t love Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (, but I like his style — it’s a noirish kind of ’70s grit. He uses the same thing to greater effect in Roman J. Israel, Esq., which is a noticeable improvement. Unfortunately, it’s still just an okay movie.

Another drama set in Los Angeles, Denzel Washington is the titular character, an idealistic old school Luddite attorney who focuses on criminal procedure and civil rights. He’s forced to give up his dingy bankrupt two-man practice when his law partner falls unconscious. He takes a position working for slick George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a former student of his partner. George, who runs a swanky firm big enough to have departments and refers to his clients’ “team,” is all about the billing.

Roman, who prides himself on zealously representing his clients, runs into an ethical dilemma when he’s assigned a criminal matter — and he makes it worse.

I appreciate what Gilroy is getting at here; I understand it firsthand. Personal convictions all too often clash with professional obligations. It’s tough not to lose sight of your beliefs in the face of deadlines, billable hours, and client service. Whatever point he’s making, though, is muddled in an aimless plot that lacks intensity and runs out steam early on. The ending is hard to follow; I had to rewind a couple times to see the caption on the brief to catch what happens. Big deal.

It’s never a good sign when I’m paying more attention to the locations than the plot. Washington does a fine job — his performance is stronger than the material he has to work with. Farrell does as good a job, especially with even less to work with. I’m curious to see what Gilroy does next, but I hope it’s punchier and less clouded than Roman J. Israel, Esq.

With Carmen Ejogo, Lynda Gravátt, Amanda Warren, Hugo Armstrong, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton, Amari Cheatom, Vince Cefalu, Tarina Pouncy, Nazneen Contractor, Niles Fitch, Jocelyn Ayanna, Eli Bildner, Robert Prescott, Elisa Perry, Shelley Hennig, Annie Sertich, Ajgie Kirkland, Franco Vega, Lauren Ellen Thompson, Anthony Traina, King Orba, Danny Barnes, Joseph David-Jones, Andrew T. Lee

Production: Bron Studios, Cross Creek Pictures, Culture China / Image Nation Abu Dhabi Fund, Escape Artists, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, LStar Capital, MACRO, Topic Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance

Distribution: Columbia Pictures (USA), Cinépolis Distribución (Mexico), Sony Pictures Releasing (Argentina), United International Pictures (UIP) (International)

122 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) C+


(USA 2015)

Martin Luther King Jr. lived an amazing life, and it would take volumes to cover it. That’s why it was smart of director Ava DuVernay to focus on one key event—the freedom march on Selma—and not MLK’s entire life.

With Selma, DuVernay does a nice job downplaying the legacy and showing MLK as an imperfect man, flaws and fears and all. David Oyelowo lacks MLK’s intensity, but he pulls off the task of portraying the man. Seeing Oprah Winfrey play an unglamorous old lady is a surprise.

I have two issues here. One is technical: Selma looks and feels like a made-for-cable movie. The other issue is treatment: I would have liked the story to go a little deeper. Still, Selma is a film definitely worth its running time; in fact, it could have gone on and I probably would not have noticed.

With Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Jim France, Clay Chappell, Tom Wilkinson, Haviland Stillwell, André Holland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Colman Domingo, Omar J. Dorsey, Tessa Thompson, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, David Morizot, David Dwyer, E. Roger Mitchell, Dylan Baker, Ledisi Young, Kent Faulcon, Stormy Merriwether, Niecy Nash, Corey Reynolds, Wendell Pierce, John Lavelle, Stephan James, Trai Byers, Lakeith Stanfield, Henry G. Sanders, Charity Jordan, Stan Houston, Tim Roth, Nigel Thatch, Tara Ochs, David Silverman, Charles Saunders, Dexter Tillis, Cuba Gooding Jr.

128 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC 600 North Michigan) B