When you have the catalog of Denzel, they won’t all be Hall of Famers.
That’s my takeaway from ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ Denzel follows up ‘Fences’ (and the Oscar loss to Casey Affleck) with this character study about an attorney who’s out of step with his times. Throwing out his cool trademarks (and removing his dental cap so we can see the natural gap in his teeth), Roman is a brilliant mind who’s functioned as the ‘office’ half of a legal firm for decades. When a heart attack claims the public face of the company, Roman is drawn back out to a civilization he cares for, but who doesn’t have the same type of sympathy for him.
Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell carry the supporting roles here (and carry them well), but the pieces gel here in a way that’s good but not great. The case that Roman is building, that the plea bargain system weighs far too heavily toward letting innocent people take time versus going to trial, is a very real and accurate argument; the dramatization of it here just doesn’t completely work.
Still worth seeing though if you’re a Denzel fan.