(US/Canada/China/UAE - 2017)
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Cast: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Lynda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, Hugo Armstrong, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton, Amari Cheathom, Nazneen Contractor, Niles Fitch, Elisa Perry, Annie Sertich, Esperanza Spalding, Just N. Time. (PG-13, 122 mins)
Veteran journeyman screenwriter Dan Gilroy made his directing debut three years ago with the critically acclaimed NIGHTCRAWLER, and coaxed a career-best performance out of Jake Gyllenhaal in the process. It was a challenge to base a film around one of the most repulsive protagonists in recent memory--Louis Bloom, a petty thief specializing in copper wire and chain-link fencing who makes a name for himself selling accident and murder footage to a desperate, bottom-ranked L.A. news station--and Gilroy explores similar themes with the legal drama ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. Played by the great Denzel Washington, the titular character is ultimately just as morally and ethically challenged as Louis Bloom, but he's not a bad guy. He's just as much of a misfit, though where Bloom was an unrepentant sociopath, Los Angeles defense attorney Roman J. Israel is a savant who eats nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and has the entire California legal code memorized. He works behind the scenes as part of a two-man firm, and his elderly partner--the face of the practice and the guy who appears in court--has just gone into a coma after a massive heart attack, leaving the abrasive and socially awkward Roman--in no way a people person--to handle his cases in front of a series of increasingly exasperated judges. Roman is a career civil rights activist with a borderline Cornel West afro, unfashionable eyewear, and mismatched, ill-fitting, ragged suits that look like they've been worn for 30 years (Washington's also wearing some padding to add a little girth to his midsection). He has a brilliant legal mind, which is why his partnership with his aged colleague has worked, but with the old man out of the picture, the practice has been handed over, per his wishes, to slick, high-priced criminal lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a former student and protege of whom Roman was completely unaware. The practice has been losing money due to its taking on a large of pro bono, social activism cases that Roman lives for, so with the blessing of the ailing lawyer's family, Pierce shuts it down and reluctantly agrees to take Roman on as an attorney at his own hugely successful firm.