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Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel Esq.” looks for justice

Updated: Apr 17, 2018


Denzel Washington received a best actor Oscar nomination for his role as Roman J. Israel, ESQ. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for profanity and some violence; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play and YouTube; 4K on iTunes & Vudu

Best extra: “The Making of ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’”

HERE’S a film loaded with good stuff – Dan Gilroy, an Oscar-nominated writer (“Nightcrawler”) and director. Denzel Washington, who received a best actor in a leading role nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his performance. Co-stars Colin Farrell  and Carmen Ejogo (“Selma”) ...

And good intentions. But you know what they say about those.

“The concept of the film is built on the idea that the justice system in the U.S. is an overburdened system,” Gilroy says in “The Making of ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’”, one of four bonus features on the disc from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “It’s about somebody who for 40 years has been carrying around the burden of wanting to set things right for his clients.”

While Washington, as always, delivers a great performance, the film itself leaves us flat. “Roman’s a human being like everybody else, who has flaws like everybody else,” he says in “Denzel Washington: Becoming Roman.”

Something traumatic must have happened to him in the 1970s; he’s stuck there, Washington says. Roman shows a pronounced dislike of social niceties; his hostility is palpable. He is the inside guy at a two-man law firm, a criminal defense attorney who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, but without the movie charm of a “Forrest Gump” or “Rain Man.” Roman never appears in court. We see why after his partner is felled by a heart attack, and he attempts to carry the day’s case load. Roman makes enemies everywhere he goes; he can’t help his clients, and is soon facing a charge of contempt.

What we do note is how the accused are rushed through the judicial system. When a hidden partner, George Pierce (Farrell), from a big league law firm shows up, there’s some hope Roman will at least have a new job to support himself. There are moments when Roman and George connect, and when he applies for a job with an activist organization run by Maya Alston (Ejogo), where this brilliant savant looks like he might find support for his cause. He’s been working 40 years on a lawsuit that will revolutionize the legal system. But no … For a simple soul, Roman runs into a lot of complications.

Movie Trailer

Sony’s Blu-ray picture (1.85:1 ratio) looks great, with rich but natural color in locations, apparel, sets and complexions. Detail is excellent.

The 4K Ultra HD on iTunes and Vudu, shows more of the natural 35mm film grain, with a higher level of clarity. Black levels are deep and solid, with more defined sharpness in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10, while Vudu offers standard HDR10. No matter the choice of HD formant, cinematography by Robert Elswit (“Nightcrawler,” “There Will Be Blood”) is a pleasure.

Dialogue drives “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and comes through clearly on its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The protagonist loves jazz, and there are good highlights throughout the film. Immersive sound is subtle, placing us in crowd, court and prison scenes.

Extras also include “Colin Farrell: Discovering George” and eight deleted scenes.

The film was a calculated risk, producer Jennifer Fox says. Gilroy wrote it for Washington, and “if Denzel decided to not do the movie, we wouldn’t have a movie.”

Gilroy hopes viewers will feel empowered. "Roman J. Israel, Esq.” was intended to make us want to do the right thing. Stop mass shootings. Make sure everyone has shelter, enough to eat, educational opportunities, access to healthcare. Overhaul an overwhelmed and unequal justice system. 

“If Roman, with his bad social skills “limited resources and lack of power” can take on the system, others can, too,” he says.

Unfortunately, the story wanders during its two-plus hour run time. It loses focus, suspense and viewers.

- Kay Reynolds and Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer

George Pierce (Colin Farrell), from a big league law firm shows up, and provides Roman will a new job.



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