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Film Review: Denzel Weird, Great in 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.'

by Todd A. Smith


Denzel Washington stars as “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (Photo Credit: Glen Wilson/Sony Entertainment, Inc.)


Keep on Truckin’ 



If a moviegoer leaves the theater after seeing “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and cannot get Eddie Kendricks’ classic song “Keep on Truckin’” out of their head, that moviegoer will probably not be alone.

The ex-Temptations’ 1973 hit song is Roman J. Israel, Esq.’s ringtone and the phrase can sum up the litigator’s theme in life.

Although the legal system is set up to see minorities re-enslaved, true activists have to keep on truckin’ until true reform is experienced.

Despite Kendricks’ lyrics being about pursuing the good loving of a woman, Roman (Denzel Washington) has a love for possible plea bargain reform in the criminal justice system.

Far too many poor and minority defendants find themselves taking plea bargains despite their innocence, because many fear longer prison terms and many prosecutors care more about conviction rates than guilt or innocence.

Roman has found a partner in legal warfare in William Henry Jackson.

William is the public face of the firm, fighting battles in front of judges and juries.

On the other hand, Roman is the brains behind the operation, providing the brilliant defenses for defendants who have been falsely accused or overcharged.

Unfortunately, when William suffers a heart attack, Roman has to become the face of the law firm, for better or worse.

Therefore, Roman has to appear in court, Afro out of control, suit three or four decades out of style, and as the hallway bailiff (Tarina Pouncy) calls him after a lame racial joke, a “wack a$$.”

While his legal secretary, Vernita (Lynda Gravatt) begs Roman to ask for continuances until William is out of the hospital; he pursues his quest for reform, even at the detriment of their helpless clients.

Things only get worse for Roman when William’s former law student, George Pierce (Colin Farrell) is hired to close all of their pending cases and shudder the law firm, permanently.

After a desperate search to find employment, even though money has never been Roman’s motivating factor, he finds himself tempted by money, which forces him to question his own morality and purity.

There is a quote in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” which states that purity cannot survive in this world.

That statement is indicative of how complex a character Roman J. Israel, Esq. really is.

Even those with the purest of motives sometimes have to question whether being so innocent and dedicated means anything in the grand scheme of things.

Can one man, no matter how sincere, really change how crooked and unequal the system is?

And does one mistake ruin someone’s credibility?

Washington, as usual, shines brighter than the Christmas lights at Times Square.

What should be expected from the best actor of his generation?

Despite the two-time Academy Award winner’s greatness, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” might be one of his most unique performances, for his combined brilliance, passion and social awkwardness.

Roman is the epitome of a freedom fighter.

Roman is the epitome of a nerd.

And Roman is the epitome of a weirdo.

But all of those contrasting character traits is what gives him his depth and makes him very human.

Many people have some of the same traits, but hopefully not as much nerd and weirdo as Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The movie has its twist and turns, but Washington is the movie.

And while Farrell and Carmen Ejogo (“Sparkle”) hold their own, very few can compete toe-to-toe with the great Washington.

The legendary actor just keeps on truckin’ and keeps delivering remarkable performances.


His latest, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is no different.






This article was published on Wednesday 22 November, 2017.
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