Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Rated 4.0

One of the last true movie stars, Denzel Washington is so casually great that he often obliterates co-stars and overwhelms plots, and the lion’s share of his starring vehicles succeed as character studies first and as movies second, if at all.  Case in point: Roman J. Israel, Esq., the latest film from Nightcrawler writer-director David Gilroy, and an only slightly less seedy look at the Los Angeles underbelly.  Playing the title character, Washington simultaneously anchors and elevates this solid if obvious legal drama, showily disappearing into the title role of a sad-sack civil rights-era relic getting his first taste of temptation.  Washington gets ample opportunity to layer his performance with subtly scene-stealing mannerisms, and as a character, Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a non-stop thrill ride of actor choices.  As for Roman J. Israel, Esq., the film: it’s a decent morality play, although certainly a step down for Gilroy from Nightcrawler.