"Social Justice Confusion"
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. stars Denzel Washington in the title role, as a quirky legal savant dedicated to social justice who inspires a white corporate defense lawyer and a black civil rights activist working in the trenches. Well directed and acted but not always credible, ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. makes some compelling arguments for criminal justice reform, but it has a Romantic, left-leaning view of justice that ultimately overlooks the rights of crime victims. It also contains several strong profanities.
The movie opens with Roman Israel drawing up a case for indictment against himself for hypocritically abandoning his principles. Cut to several weeks earlier. Roman is in the back office of the man for which he works, a civil rights activist and criminal defense attorney of some renown in Los Angeles, who’s also Roman’s mentor. Roman gets word that his mentor has had a heart attack and stroke. At first, there’s hope the man will recover, but the stroke has left him brain dead.
Roman has always been in the background at the firm. His duties mostly involved looking up precedents, writing briefs and gathering documentary evidence for his mentor. The problem is, the firm never made much money and is in fact in a whole lot of debt. Consequently, Roman’s been living on a peanut butter and jelly diet. The cupboards in his modest little apartment are filled with jars of peanut butter.
The dead lawyer’s family decides to let Roman go. They also hire George Pierce, a rich white corporate defense lawyer played by Colin Farrell, to clear the cases and debt from the dead lawyer’s files. George offers Roman a job at George’s large firm, but Roman’s not impressed with George at all. He thinks George has sold out and doesn’t really care about justice and tells him so to his face. Meanwhile, Roman goes to a local civil rights group to work there but finds that the group is only involved in working minor cases. Besides, they don’t pay any one and only take volunteers.
Surprisingly, while looking at the files of the dead lawyer, George becomes impressed by the work Roman did for the firm. Roman shows up at George’s office, and George agrees to hire Roman as he originally intended, but gives Roman a short leash.
However, Roman makes a mistake and endangers the case of a thief whose partner in crime had murdered the Armenian owner of a convenience store they were robbing. The unarmed thief was going to avoid a death penalty by testifying against his partner, who’s on the lam, but Roman blew the deal with the District Attorney’s office by asking the office for too lenient a sentence for the unarmed thief in exchange for his testimony. George has to fire Roman now, especially since Roman was supposed to consult with George before taking any actions on the cases he’s working.
Trying to correct his mistake, and with nowhere to turn for income, Roman secretly turns in the whereabouts of the missing thief who pulled the trigger, in exchange for the $100,000 in reward money from the Armenian community. It would appear that Roman finally can live on easy street for a while, but the formerly missing thief finds out in jail what Roman did, has his partner, Roman’s client, murdered and confronts Roman.
Roman realizes he’s betrayed every principle he ever believed. However, if he does the right thing and confesses to everything, it would implicate the thief in another murder and put a big target on Roman’s back.
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is well directed and acted. The music establishes a nice mood for the story. However, Roman’s change of heart from a selfless activist to a greedy snitch isn’t quite convincing. As a result, the story seems a little contrived.
One of the movie’s important plot points is a social justice project Roman has been preparing for years. Roman wants to file a class action civil rights suit against Los Angeles for its system of plea bargaining. He feels the plea-bargaining system not only denies a fair trial for the accused but also denies a fair trial for the alleged victim. Roman presents the idea to George, but George isn’t interested. However, as George discovers Roman’s legal abilities, his mind begins to change.
This plot point would suggest that this movie isn’t just interested in the civil rights of accused criminals. However, the movie’s concern for crime victims is only minimal. Most of the talk about justice seems to come from a Romantic, liberal or leftist mindset or worldview where concerns for the freedom of criminal defendants is paramount. Also, the term “social justice” is used in a leftist, if not communist, sense where American society has created institutional forms of oppression. However, a fair and just examination of the empirical evidence shows that isn’t the case. If anything, the evidence suggests that the biggest form of institutional oppression is against the right to life of unborn babies and against the right of parents to free their children from the leftist indoctrination running rampant in the public schools and universities (especially if those babies and children come from a black family or a poor one).
MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. for its social justice themes and some foul language.
(RoRo, B, C, CoCo, LL, V, A, M) Strong Romantic, liberal/leftist worldview about society and justice and promoting some social justice and criminal justice “reform” that ultimately overlooks the rights of crime victims, mitigated by some moral, redemptive elements (including a couple statements about the sinfulness of man, a positive appeal to Jesus, a positive appeal to God, and one character is redeemed from only looking at the bottom line), plus main character has a poster of communist agitator and Soviet apologist Angela Davis on his apartment wall (poster is shown a couple times without comment but makes Davis look heroic); nine obscenities (including one “f” word), seven strong profanities, one light profanity; mostly off-screen violence includes talk about an armed robbery ending in murder, man shot off screen, mention of a man being murdered in prison, man thinks car is chasing him and people in car want to kill him, but it turns out not to be true; no sex; no nudity; brief alcohol use; no smoking or drugs; and, man violates his principles but corrects the violation, criminal activity involves a hitman, and stubborn man doesn’t take advice from others, including a judge who fines him for contempt.
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. stars Denzel Washington in the title role, as a quirky legal savant in Los Angeles dedicated to social justice. When his boss and mentor, a civil rights activist, dies, Roman reluctantly goes to work for the big law firm that his mentor’s family gives the small firm’s cases. George, the slick white defense lawyer at the big firm, keeps Roman on a short leash. Roman at first is very impressive in his new role, but he makes a mistake in an armed that puts a man’s life at risk. Roman compounds the mistake, and violating his principles. How can Roman set things right, and at what cost?
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is well directed and acted. The music establishes a nice mood for the story. However, Roman’s violation of his principles isn’t quite convincing. As a result, the story seems a little contrived. ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. makes some compelling arguments for criminal justice reform, but it has a Romantic, left-leaning view of justice that ultimately overlooks the rights of crime victims. It also contains several strong profanities.