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Denzel Washington’s magnetism keeps ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ afloat (Review)

November 24, 2017

There are actors, and then there are chameleons. Never before in our contemporary times has there been a pillar of the entertainment industry like Denzel Washington. On the heels of the 25th anniversary of his astounding performance in Malcolm X, Washington has transformed himself into Roman J. Israel, Esq. Like the many many roles that have come before this one, Washington wraps himself in his character as if he’s wearing a second skin. His incredible performance as a man with a computer-brain and a determination to aid the helpless is what keeps Roman J. Israel, Esq. moving forward — even during the moments it seems to lean off track.

From the mind of writer/director, Dan Gilroy, Washington stands at the center of the legal drama as its titular character. In shoes that are two sizes too big (literally), an oversized blazer, and some haphazardly shaped bell bottoms, Roman is a fossil – a relic of the 1970’s locked away in a law office and dragged into the light when his partner, William Henry Jackson aka The Bulldog has a heart attack. In an instant, the man who has always stayed in the shadows becomes the face of the two-person firm. He also inadvertently captures the attention of hotshot attorney George Pierce (Collin Farrell) who is intrigued by Roman’s wealth of knowledge and encyclopedic brain.

Over the course of just three weeks, Roman’s life changes forever. A man who is obviously on the autistic spectrum and has never practiced in a courtroom, Roman finds himself both enraged at the greed and ignorance of others while simultaneously seduced by it. As he tries to find a place for himself at Pierce’s lush and massive law firm, Roman becomes enamored with Civil Rights attorney Maya Alston (play stellarly by Carman Ejogo). As Roman finds himself increasingly adrift from his beliefs, Maya — inspired by his legacy — desperately tries to hold on to the reigns of activism despite all that she’s had to sacrifice for it.

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