Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

DAN GILROY

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  //USA, 2017.  , ,  , , , , , .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards.  Golden Globe Awards.  Toronto International Film Festival.  

A small law firm is in disarray when one of its two lawyers has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital; for years, he has been the one who appears in court while his co-counsel () has always stayed behind, providing detailed legal knowledge and advice thanks to his savant-level intelligence but avoiding the public because of his near spectrum-level lack of social ease.  With his partner’s collapse, Washington is left without a job and no severance thanks to his partner, who put social justice above all other concerns, having run the office at a deficit for too long.  Offered a position by corporate shark lawyer , Washington spurns the idea because it doesn’t suit the ideals of sacrifice and activism that have driven him for decades, but when he finds he can’t get a job affiliated with human rights law because his political ideals are not in line with the current version of progress, he goes to work for Farrell as a last resort.  Rejected by the people he felt he was fighting for but fitting in poorly in his new environment with people who feel as much need to try and understand him as he does them, Washington accepts his disillusionment and gives the Ayn Rand life a try, announcing that purity is impossible and indulgence is the way of the world.  The experiment revolves around one major moral choice that has a devastating effect in this intelligent film that features Washington in a smooth and compelling performance that never overplays what could be easy awards bait; instead of shameless personality ticks, his portrayal of Roman J. Israel (never forget the “Esquire”) is for the most part about his trouble connecting with others, veering back and forth between trying very hard to do so or choosing an intentional distance.  The character has an emotional consistency at its core even when his behaviour does not, and while Gilroy stretches his effort a bit too hard to give us a dramatic ending, for the most part this is a film that is refreshingly hard to predict.  Farrell excels in support, and is magnificent as the woman at a Civil Rights charity whose friendship with Washington challenges her own belief in the future.

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