First off, I was pretty disgusted and shocked by the middle of the road estimates on Rotten Tomatoes for this very good movie. When I read some of the reviews, I wondered if some of these reviewers were in the wrong movie theater. Right from the start, I can state that Roman J. Isreal, ESQ. is one of the best movies of 2017.
“Roman J. Israel, ESQ. , played extremely well by Denzel Washington is about the conflict between idealism as a young lawyer starts out his career, and the desire and need for financial security that becomes more necessary as you get older.
As this movie explains very well, within the legal system today, prosecutors throw very severe maximum penalties at the accused in the hopes that they will accept a plea bargain, because if they fight the system and lose, their entire reason for living goes down the drain with their prison term. The only thing worse than going to prison is going to prison for something you didn’t do, or living through a prison term that is completely out of proportion to the one time mistake you made as a young kid. Your choice is to fight prosecution, lose all your savings and if you lose, getting the worst case scenario prison term. If your found innocent because of a mistake by a prosecutor or a lying witness, you don’t get a refund from the legal firm that charges you 500 dollars an hour to save your life. Your financially ruined for life and you did nothing wrong. These are the harsh realities of how the broken legal system in this country works for so many unfortunate people.
For me the most significant scene in this movie is towards the beginning, where Roman meets with a young 17 year old terrified kid, who is in prison waiting trial and while trying to negotiate a fair plea for this young man, who made a small mistake and to save his own life, wore a gang t-shirt. The female prosecutor made it very clear that she could care less about the life of this unfortunate poor 17 year old. She only cared about about her perfect batting average as a prosecutor as Roman desperately tried to plead for his life. This is what is wrong with the legal system in this country, humanity, common sense and decency takes a back seat to a batting average. Underlying all the complex and unfair laws are young human lives who either because being poor or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, face a horrible existence that is barely worth living, in prison, and far too often for something they didn’t even do.
Fighting for the innocent and not being about the money is what Roman Israel is all about. Mainly due to his idealism, he has been living alone in a run down apartment for the last 35 years. Israel is a legal savant with a photographic memory but unfortunately is slightly autistic, with perhaps a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome and because of that, just does legal research for a small firm that is very deeply in debt and then the owner of the firm has a heart attack, which is where this movie begins. Roman cares about helping the less fortunate so much that he has been preparing a huge legal brief for many years, in the hopes of cleaning up a system that just does not work and is grossly unfair to the less fortunate who get pushed through a system with plea bargains and sentences that are outrageously unfair.
I thought that Colin Farrell’s performance as a rich lawyer who hires Roman was one of the best performances of his career. Colin plays a lawyer who is the opposite of Roman, and mostly cares about money and almost never about helping people. This film has a great story, great back stories, and transitions as the main characters find themselves through mistakes and by learning from others. There are some scenes as Roman attends a meeting of young civil rights advocates that I thought was also outstanding and inspiring.
I thought that Roman J. Israel, ESQ. is one of the best films of 2017 and it receives my highest recommendation. Tragically, Denzel Washington should receive another Academy Award nomination, but probably will not because of the average reviews for this very good movie.