Roman J. Israel, Esq

Denzel Washington got a surprise Oscar nomination for his role as a savant-like LA lawyer left over from the Civil Rights Era. 

With stuck up afro, too-big suit and old earphones permanently playing classic soul, he shuffles along quite happily until his law partner dies suddenly leaving a corporate firm to hoover up the debts. They’re run by Colin Farrell, a one-time idealist now gone to the business side of law. Farrell spots Denzel’s brilliance and offers him a job but can Roman Israel find a place in the new corporate world?

There are some great aspects to this character study, directed by Dan Gilroy, who gave us the excellent Nightcrawler. I thought we were going to get a similar film here, one about gifted individuals lost in the moral maze of the LA night.

It certainly starts like that but this goes badly off the rails when Denzel betrays his own soul, gets some money and splashes out on a new apartment. It simply doesn’t make any sense – it’s that, or there’s a chunk of the movie missing. 

I got the feeling this was a pilot for a potential TV series, like LA Law but with this veteran of the Panthers and old skool justice, with his vinyl collection and his habit of studying the legal books late at night listening to Pharaoh Sanders and Gil Scott Heron. I’d watch that, especially if Denzel was in it.

But Roman J Israel skids off course, with a subplot involving a gang and a bag of reward money. What a pity. Denzel’s ticks and charisma keep you hooked, just about, but like his character, he deserves more.

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