Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. ★ 1/2

Screenwriter Dan Gilroy is part of a talented family of brothers including writer/director Tony (Michael Clayton) and editor John, who he’s been working with for years. But it was with Nightcrawler, his debut film as a writer/director,
that he really impressed. Transporting the “if it bleeds, it leads” throughline of Network (Sidney Lumet’s 1976 classic) into the far more cynical present day paid huge dividends, earning him an Oscar nomination for the thriller’s script. With his latest effort as a writer/director, Gilroy once again looked to Lumet for inspiration, this time recalling the moral integrity of Paul Newman’s protagonist in the
legendary director’s 1982 legal drama, The Verdict. Denzel Washington plays the titular lawyer in Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. as a collection of mannered tics, a socially awkward crusader housed in a rumpled, ill-fitting suit, along with glasses and an uneven afro that wouldn’t seem out of place in the 1970s, even though Gilroy has once again set his unfortunately meandering film in the here and now. But in a sense, he’s flipped the script with his latest. While Nightcrawler focused on an amoral snake played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is far more virtuous. When Roman’s mentor slips into a coma, the attorney is forced to swim with sharks like his new boss, George Pierce (Colin Farrell, slick in a tailored suit). Will it corrupt him? Maybe. The better question is, will you care? (At Boston CommonFenway and in the suburbs.

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