Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Critics Consensus

Intriguing yet heavy-handed, Roman J. Israel, Esq. makes the most of -- but never quite lives up to -- Denzel Washington's magnetic performance in the title role.



Total Count: 169


Audience Score

User Ratings: 4,046
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Movie Info

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when a turbulent series of events challenge the activism that has defined his career. Colin Farrell costars as the ambitious, monied lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm.

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Critic Reviews for Roman J. Israel, Esq.

All Critics (169) | Top Critics (38) | Fresh (90) | Rotten (79)

  • The results are entertaining and watchable, but always slightly, oddly out of sync with the eponymous turn.

    Feb 1, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Through his sheer learned technique and presence, Washington sells this one.

    Feb 1, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Clearly conceived as a morality play, the awkwardly titled film is too contrived and predictable to efficiently deliver the emotional punch it aims for.

    Jan 31, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • It's a credit to Washington's rock solid performance that we care as much as we do.

    Nov 23, 2017 | Rating: B- | Full Review…
  • Roman J. Israel, Esq. has pockets of intrigue, and writer-director Gilroy and Washington have teamed up to create a promising dramatic character. We just never get full delivery on that promise.

    Nov 22, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • The story is surprisingly unfocused and, when it snaps out of the protracted setup phase, it plunges into quasi-thriller territory that relies on a series of hard-to-swallow contrivances.

    Nov 22, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Roman J. Israel, Esq.

  • Oct 15, 2018
    Denzel Washington stars in the Dan Gilroy character drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film follows a civil rights attorney who gets a rude awakening when his law partner dies and he's forced to take a job with a large corporate firm and finds himself making compromises. Washington gives a strong performance, as usual, and Colin Farrell too is really good. But the story is a little unfocused and meanders at times. And the film tries to have things both ways; portraying Israel as a paragon of ethics that inspires others, but also as a little jaded and susceptible to, and complicate in, corruption. Yet while it has some weaknesses, Roman J. Israel is a compelling drama that addressing some important issues.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 06, 2018
    A compounding catastrophe of missed opportunities and baffling narrative choices. Washington's not bad, but the filmmakers have no idea what to do with his character.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 02, 2018
    Denzel Washington delivers one of the strongest and most multifaceted performances of his career in a decent, if flawed film that knows how to explore the personality and motivations of such a complex protagonist, even though it nearly gets lost in a confused third act.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 17, 2018
    After his brilliantly dark urban thriller Nightcrawler in 2015, a lot of eyes were on director Dan Gilroy with an eagerness to see what he'd deliver next. Roman J. Israel, Esq promises to be just as intriguing but it lacks the dramatic drive that made Gilroys's last film such captivating viewing. That said, it boasts a strong lead performance that's enough to maintain your interest. Plot: Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is an a idealistic defense attorney who likes to work behind the scenes. However, when his colleague dies suddenly, Roman is forced to look for other work. He's hired by another law firm who have heard of his fastidious approach to the job but by this time Roman has crossed a professional (and personal) boundary that leads to some serious implications and both his job and his life in danger. Dan Gilroy's legal drama opens with an intriguing concept of our main character's intention to have himself disbarred from legal practise by writing a memo that proposes that he will both prosecute and defend himself due to his personal indescretions. From here on it goes on to depict Roman J. Israel Esq. as a socially awkward but very competent and meticulous individual who has a passion for civil rights. Embodying this interesting character is, of course, Denzel Washington who delivers another wonderfully realised character to his already impressive resumé. Washington has been Oscar nominated for his work here and although it's unlikely that he'll win, this is still some solid work. That said, despite his good work, he's not entirely afforded a strong enough script to warrant his commitment. There's a lot of potential here but that's probably what makes it a slightly frustrating affair as it doesn't quite have enough of a dramatic punch to get things moving and Gilroy's decision to go for a more restrained approach, somewhat, takes the wind out the film's sails. Despite its great premise it doesn't really flesh it out when it actually comes to it. It spends plenty of time on the how and why but doesn't really and keep good on its promises. A serviceable legal thriller that has good intentions but ultimately doesn't really go anywhere. That said, it boasts a great lead performance from Denzel and strong, cutthroat support from Colin Farrell but it's just a shame that the film doesn't capitalise on these two as it's left with a script that has an air of mediocrity to it. I enjoyed this slow-moving legal drama but it needed an adrenaline shot and left me feeling that it was a missed opportunity. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer

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