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Roman J. Israel, Esq.


Stars: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Lynda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, DeRon Horton, Amari Cheatom

Director: Dan Gilroy

If it proves nothing else, this talky and sometimes confusing drama shows us that an Afro hairdo definitely does not suit Denzel Washington. The familiar toothy handsomeness of the star practically disappears under the mass of fuzz as he plays Roman, an ageing lawyer, and the longtime legal partner at a small firm whose frontman lawyer has, as the film begins, just had a heart attack which he is not expected to survive.

Hot shot legal eagle George (Farrell) is assigned to wind up the failing practice and instructs Roman, who make rare court appearances now for ongoing cases, to go for continuances. Alas, Roman, who knows the law and its history to the letter, is unable to keep his mouth shut at what he perceives to be courtroom injustices. He incurs the wrath of a judge and is held in contempt of court.

Taken in by George's firm after a shaky start, Roman smartens up a shade, and becomes involved in the case of a youngster whose friend shot a store owner in the course of their attempted robbery.

Circumstances later compel Roman to rat out the killer (the accused has agreed to tell where he is) and, unknown to his firm, or a putative ladyfriend (Ejogo), pocket the $100,000 reward.

His lifestyle looks up in every way, and he moves to a swanky apartment, but his conscience increasingly nags away...

Washington is solid, if not entirely comfortable, in an Oscar-nominated turn, creating character, but never quite flesh and blood. The film does conceal its hand as to its final destination, although this becomes obvious towards the end.

And any hopes of seeing Roman triumph in the courtroom are dashed by a writer-director who has other ideas.

David Quinlan

USA 2017. UK Distributor: Sony (Columbia). Colour by Company C/Print by FotoKem.
121 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Jan 2018