“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”: the hypocrisy of the world of a left-wing lawyer comes to a head (like it can for a blogger)

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
Released:  2017/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/11/25, night, fair crowd
Length:  125
Rating:  R
Companies:  Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 4:45 PM EST)

“Fences”: August Wilson’s play on the screen, with Denzel Washington as an “imperfect” family man of his segregated times

Fences”, directed by Denzel Washington, is a major African-American morality play, actually based on the Broadway play by August Wilson, and translated rather directly to a 139 minute film that looks rather like a stage play, set mostly in a rowhouse and small backyard in working class Pittsburgh in 1957 (with a final act in 1962).  The film has three visual interludes that seem like act markers.

Denzel plays the “imperfect” family “patriarch” Troy Maxson, now 53, who has a particularly authoritarian relationship with his 17-year old son Cory  (Jovan Adepo), who fears Cory’s ambitions to play football (in college and maybe pros) are unrealistic given racial discrimination, and that Cory needs to learn his place making a proletarian living. It’s noteworthy that he is illiterate (can’t read).

In fact, Troy had been a baseball star in the Negro leagues, and had come along “too early” for baseball, before Jackie Robinson changed things (the film “46”).  But by 1957 baseball already had many black stars, including Minnie Minoso, Luke Easter and Larry Doby (the last two from the powerhouse 199954 Cleveland Indians).  Pro football as also changing quickly, so Troy wasn’t with it.  Cory thinks his dad is afraid of his son’s being “better” than he is, but isn’t that a point of having a traditional family?

Viola Davis plays his loyal wife Rose, but she engages in the fast talk of many scenes.  Troy has an older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who struggles as a musician, borrowing money and getting in trouble with the law.  In fact, we learn that Troy had done hard time himself for manslaughter after a fight in Alabama, where he had grown up.  There is also a disabled brother (Mykelti Williamson) and the sidekick foil friend Bono (Stephen Henderson).

As the play progresses, Troy will continue his transgressions and test the loyalty of those around him, until he dies, as there is another “illegitimate” child Raynell (Saniyya Sydney).

I’ve encountered, in the workplace, African American men who believe they have to raise their kids to expect discrimination but still not expect any handouts in a capitalist society.  One of them thought that, as an unmarried man, I must be living with my mother.  But a decade later, I had to.

The film has some interesting scenes of improvised street baseball, like the backyard baseball  (or softball or whiffleball)) we used to play in the 1950s.

Name: Fences
Director, writer:  Denzel Washington, August Wilson
Released:  2006/12/25
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/12/26, daytime show, nearly sold out, at Angelica Mosaic in Fairfax (mixed audience)
Length:  139
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount (as if independent or Vantage)
Link:  official

Wikipedia:  Mt. Washington area of Pittsburgh in 1905, link.

(Posted: Monday, December 26, 2016 at 9:30 PM EST)