“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” may not sound like the name of a black activist lawyer (played by Denzel Washington), but the new film by Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) starts in a most non-visual fashion, with an image of the legal complaint where Roman sues himself for hypocrisy (or perhaps gratuitous speech).
Yes, I’ve made little videos comprising images of paperwork. The opening image may explain why the film, long at 125 minutes, was shot in the conventional 1.85:1 aspect.
As the mains story line starts, we find out that the owner of the LA law film Roman works for is in a permanent vegetative state after a stroke, and that the law firm will close. Enter George Pierce (Colin Farrell) who makes no bones about the fact that left-leaning law firms that help destitute underclass clients still have to make money.
That sets up the trap, where Roman has to play the system against itself. I know that idea as a blogger. Roman needs money for his own life, fast. Screenwriting 101. Even so, he has floated the idea of a class action lawsuit to stop all plea bargains which deny poor defendants a chance at exoneration (and this brings up the idea of the Innocence Project and films about wrongful convictions, like “Dream / Killer” by Andrew Jenks about Ryan Ferguson). He also mentions the privatization of prisons, and describes the hole system as one that keeps blacks in their place (as in the film “13th”.Nov 14, 206)
The firm gets a case involving a convenience store murder, where the guy who pulled the trigger disappears Roman is first assigned to help the other know-nothing defendant, and even tries to cap a plea bargain with the butch female prosecutor . The Armenian community puts up reward money, and in time Roman takes the bait, literally pulling $100,000 in cash out of a trash barrel.
The film makes a lot of the pressure trial lawyers work under (much like the John Grisham novel movies like “The Firm” and “The Pelican Brief”, oh, and even “The Rainmaker”). They have to think and talk on their feet for a client’s interests. As a blogger/journalist, I don’t have to do that. I feel like I’m not supposed to take sides.
There is a scene late in the film, as Roman contemplates his own end, as he drives alone out into the desert, and he thinks a sports car is following him. He brakes and runs off the road. The teenagers (Kevin Balmore, who looks Hispanic, and Miles Heizer, who looks white) come back and actually want to help.
The music score, by James Newton Howard, is schmaltzy, with a touch of jazz.
I wasn’t sure if the technology was supposed to be current. Some of the cell phones look modern, others were flips. The computers looked more like late 90s.
There are scenes at the Los Angeles County Courthouse and later the federal district court in LA. I kept thinking of Reid Ewing’s wonderful little short film “I’m Free” filmed in the former. Roman is not , in this lifetime.
Intellectual Takeout (Annie Holmquist) offered a perspective on Denzel Washington’s own perspective on the film and the causes of violent or self-destructive behavior among men of color: fatherlessness. Here is more about Denzel’s comments in the New York Daily News. Don’t blame private prisons. A fair question to follow up with could concern the moral obligations of childless people.
Picture: Along I-10, May 2012, near Ontario CA, my trip.
|Name:||“Roman J. Israel, Esq”|
|Director, writer:||Dan Gilroy|
|When and how viewed:||Angelika Mosaic, 2017/11/25, night, fair crowd|
|Companies:||Columbia Pictures (Sony)|
(Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 4:45 PM EST)