Roman J. Israel, Esq.
|Roman J. Israel, Esq.|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dan Gilroy|
|Written by||Dan Gilroy|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||John Gilroy|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$13 million|
Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a 2017 American legal drama film written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film stars Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, and Carmen Ejogo, and centers around the life of an idealistic defense lawyer (Washington) who finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a personal crisis and the necessity for extreme action.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2017, and began a limited release in the United States by Columbia Pictures on November 17, 2017. The film went wide on November 22, 2017, and grossed just $13 million against its $22 million budget. The film received mixed reviews from critics but Washington was widely praised for his performance, for which he received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
Roman J. Israel is a lawyer working for $500 a week at a small law firm in Los Angeles. In his two-partner office, Israel is responsible for preparing briefs, often focusing on the civil rights of their defendants, while William Jackson, the firm's owner and a well-respected professor, focuses on the courtroom appearances that Israel struggles with. Israel has spent years developing a brief that he believes will bring social reform to the unfair use of plea-bargaining to induce guilty pleas in the justice system. Though short on interpersonal skills, Israel is gifted with a phenomenal memory as well as strong personal convictions on the meaning of justice, which he has pursued at the expense of family.
Jackson suffers a fatal heart attack. The firm is broke and will close, all to be handled by Jackson’s former student, George Pierce. Pierce, who greatly admired Jackson and is impressed by Israel’s legal mind (“worth $250 an hour”), offers a job at his own large firm. Israel rejects this offer, believing that Pierce is simply a greedy lawyer. Israel meets Maya during a job interview at a local activist network. The interview does not go well, but Maya asks him to speak at an upcoming meeting organizing a protest.
Israel reluctantly takes a job with Pierce. Israel is a poor fit, clashing with senior partner Jesse Salinas after Israel mockingly laughs at a joke Salinas makes about battered women. After attempting to interest Pierce in his brief to change the legal system, Israel is disappointed when he is instead assigned by Pierce to handle clients.
Israel is assigned Derrell Ellerbee, a young man arrested for murder. Ellerbee tells Israel that he is willing to tell police the whereabouts of the actual shooter, longtime criminal Carter Johnson, and will testify against him. Israel goes behind Salinas' back to negotiate a plea deal with the district attorney, but the prosecutor rejects his offer and hangs up on Israel after he insults her unsympathetic counter-offer to his bargain. No deal is struck and Ellerbee is murdered as a snitch.
Israel's mishandling of Ellerbee's case leads to trouble for the firm and Pierce berates him for his insubordination. That evening Israel is mugged and beaten by a homeless man he attempted to help. Israel becomes downcast and cynical, illegally using the information he received from Ellerbee to anonymously collect the $100,000 reward for Johnson's location. Israel indulges in luxuries he had previously eschewed.
Pierce apologizes to Israel, revealing that the death of Jackson and his observations of Israel’s dedication to justice has touched him. He reforms his firm to add a new focus on pro-bono cases, headed by Israel. Pierce offers to work with Israel on the legal brief for plea reform, but Israel's new materialistic outlook prevents him from enjoying the changes he has inspired.
Maya calls Israel to ask him out on a date, where she shares some of her struggles with idealism and thanks Israel for his inspiration about progressive lawyering and advocacy, but he appears unmoved.
Pierce calls Israel to meet a new client arrested for murder, who turns out to be Carter Johnson. At the jailhouse, Johnson accuses Israel of divulging privileged communications to collect the reward. Having accepted that he will spend the rest of his life in prison, Johnson's only goal is to torment Israel with the threat of jail time or even death. Israel finally suffers a breakdown and renounces his greedy, self-centered worldview.
Israel returns the reward (with a promise to repay the $5,547.27 he spent), reconciles with Maya and Pierce and tries to motivate them to pursue their inner sense of justice. He tells Pierce that he is turning himself in to the police for his crime, then starts walking to a nearby station, but is shot and killed by one of Johnson's henchmen.
In the aftermath, Maya is seen to be renewed in her activism efforts, while Pierce files Israel’s massive brief in Federal Court, in both their names, intent on continuing Israel’s efforts to reform the justice system.
- Denzel Washington as Roman J. Israel, Esq.
- Colin Farrell as George Pierce
- Carmen Ejogo as Maya Alston
- Lynda Gravatt as Vernita Wells
- Amanda Warren as Lynn Jackson (niece)
- Hugo Armstrong as Fritz Molinar
- Sam Gilroy as Connor Novick
- Tony Plana as Jesse Salinas
- DeRon Horton as Derrell Ellerbee
- Amari Cheatom as Carter Johnson
On August 25, 2016, it was revealed that Dan Gilroy's next directorial project was Inner City, a legal drama in the vein of The Verdict. Gilroy was then courting Denzel Washington to star. It was reported on September 21, 2016 that Sony Pictures was closing a deal to distribute the film, with principal photography scheduled to begin in March 2017. Gilroy's collaborators on Nightcrawler, cinematographer Robert Elswit and editor John Gilroy, worked with him again on the project. On January 31, 2017, it was reported that Colin Farrell was in talks to join the cast. As of February 28, 2017, Ashton Sanders was in talks to join as well, though he was unable to because of scheduling conflicts. In April 2017, Nazneen Contractor and Joseph David-Jones joined the cast. As of April 21, 2017, Inner City had begun filming in Los Angeles. In June 2017, Carmen Ejogo joined the cast as a civil rights worker. On June 22, 2017, the film was renamed Roman J. Israel, Esq.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2017, before its commercial release on November 17, 2017, initially limited, by Columbia Pictures. Following its festival premiere, the film was re-edited to tighten its pacing, with a dozen minutes (including one whole subplot) being shaved off the final runtime, and a key scene regarding Colin Farrell's character being shifted from the third act to earlier in the film.
The film took in $61,999 from four theaters in its limited opening weekend, for a per-venue average of $15,500. It then expanded to 1,648 theaters the following Wednesday, alongside the openings of Coco and The Man Who Invented Christmas. It was projected to gross around $4 million over its five-day weekend but ended up debuting at $4.5 million finishing 9th at the box office.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 51% based on 154 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Intriguing yet heavy-handed, Roman J. Israel, Esq. makes the most of — but never quite lives up to — Denzel Washington's magnetic performance in the title role." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score 58 out of 100, based 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, praising Washington and writing, "In no way is his performance a stunt. Washington digs so deep under the skin of this complex character that we almost breathe with him. It's a great, award-caliber performance in a movie that can barely contain it." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2 out of 4 stars. He also highlighted Washington, but criticized the narrative, saying, "Roman J. Israel, Esq. has pockets of intrigue, and writer-director Gilroy and Washington have teamed up to create a promising dramatic character. We just never get full delivery on that promise."
In his review for Empire, Simon Braund summarized the political motives in the film viewed as a legal thriller stating, "It (Roman's idealism) illustrates succinctly how at odds with the modern world Roman Israel is. A brilliant legal mind, trapped in the body of a twitchy social misfit, he has all the hallmarks of a true genius-savant — the interpersonal skills of a yeast cell, dress sense of an Open University lecturer circa 1973 and an unshakeable conviction that justice for the poor and dispossessed is a cause worth fighting for. To this deeply unfashionable end, he’s spent decades toiling in the shadows at a tiny law firm, making trouble for The Man while compiling a vast, unwieldy brief he hopes will, one day, set the American legal system on its ear".
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Academy Awards||March 4, 2018||Best Actor||Denzel Washington||Nominated|||
|Golden Globe Awards||January 7, 2018||Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama||Nominated|||
|Screen Actors Guild Awards||January 21, 2018||Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role||Nominated|||
|NAACP Image Awards||January 15, 2018||Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture||Nominated|
|Black Reel Awards||February 18, 2018||Best Actor||Nominated|
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