(director: Dan Gilroy; cinematographer: Robert Elswit; editor: John Gilroy; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.), Colin Farrell (George Pierce), Amanda Warren (Lynn), Niles Fitch (Langston Bailey), Carmen Ejogo (Maya), Lynda Gravátt (Vernita), Sam Gilroy (Connor Novick), Hugo Armstrong (Fritz Molinar), Tony Plana (Jessie Salinas), DeRon Horton (Derell Ellerbee), Amari Cheatom (Carter Johnson); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jennifer Fox, Todd Black, Denzel Washington; Sony Pictures; 2017)

An outstanding Denzel Washington performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut presents an old-fashioned crime drama without an edge but with an outstanding Denzel Washington performance and an unfocused contrived narrative.

The political thriller is set in a crime ridden overburdened downtown Los Angeles criminal court system. It reminds us throughout how unfair the justice system is, especially to minorities.

For 26 years the nerdy idealistic civil rights activist attorney Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) worked behind the scenes and his partner handled the court cases. That suddenly changes when Roman’s partner has a heart attack that incapacitates him and Roman chooses to continue working after his small firm closes. Big time white establishment lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a friend of Roman’s partner, recognizes Roman as a savant and hires him to work cases for his poor clients. Roman takes the job with the slick lawyer he has nothing in common with because he needs the income and plans to file a class-action lawsuit to challenge the pervasive and unfair system of plea bargaining. Roman also helps an activist project director Maya (Carmen Ajogo) and the poor minorities who come to her for help. It seems George is used to tells us whenever it chooses how he serves the system as an enemy of the people but is also capable of doing things to make the system better if pushed. Denzel is the saintly devoted lawyer, caring about clients and willing to fight the system’s judicial corruption. He has a three-inch Afro, wears rumpled suits, has no car, wears glasses and hangs posters in his apartment of Angela Davis and Bayard Rustin. He’s cast as a social-activist type of the 1960s who never changed as the world changes until he does sell-out after a number of incidents. The story runs out of life lessons and fresh things to say, but Denzel’s performance is riveting and humanizes a complex character by getting into his head and making him a joy to see on screen.