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Roman J. Israel, Esq.
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a drama about a troubled lawyer (Denzel Washington) who's suddenly uprooted when his longtime partner has a heart attack. Language is strong (a use of "f--k," plus "a--hole," "bitch," etc.) but not frequent. The main character is brutally mugged in one scene, there are verbal confrontations and descriptions of violence, and a homeless person appears to be dead. Social drinking (beer and wine) is shown, and a character jokes about how drinking helps make things easier. Sex isn't an issue; there's a small, affectionate kiss between a man and a woman. While the movie isn't particularly edgy or iffy, it's doubtful that younger viewers -- even teens -- will be very interested. Even for adults, it's a somewhat puzzling experience due to unsatisfying character arcs.
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What's the story?
In ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ., Roman (Denzel Washington) is a brilliant lawyer who's better at working behind the scenes than he is with people; he tries to help the downtrodden without making much money. But when his longtime partner suffers a heart attack, Roman is thrust back into the real world. His firm has been losing money, so he's given a new job in the office of George Pierce (Colin Farrell). When Roman makes a mistake while cutting a deal with opposing counsel, a client is murdered in prison -- and Roman takes the blame. In a moment of weakness, he decides to turn in the dead man's partner, a shooter in a corner store robbery, and collect a nice reward (which is illegal). Roman enjoys the reward and finds that his life is getting better ... until the man he turned in hires him. Roman must decide whether to protect himself or hold true to his longtime principles.
Is it any good?
As in his harrowing Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy tells the story of a brilliant, ill-fitting outsider in a vivid workplace, but this movie fails due to puzzling, choppy character arcs. Roman J. Israel, Esq., starts promisingly, with a strong, central performance by Washington. Roman is possibly a savant; he wears old, bulky clothes and oversized glasses and is unsure of how to act around people but is extremely sure of his job. Gilroy establishes a ramshackle, stressed-out Los Angeles that's full of noise and clutter and homeless people on sidewalks. Roman navigates these things assuredly, as long as human interaction isn't required.
Then the plot kicks in. Roman's first major decision makes very little sense, according to what we've seen; subsequent decisions built on this one likewise fail to hold water. Perhaps worse, the movie's main supporting character, Farrell's powerful George Pierce, keeps changing his stance. He initially seems like a villain, then turns kind, then villainous, and finally kind again; we can't trust him, even when he seems to genuinely care about Roman. A third key character, activist lawyer Maya (Carmen Ejogo), feels completely tacked on and entirely too convenient. The whole movie leaves off with an unsatisfying thud, perhaps having done too much when less would have been more interesting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Roman J. Israel, Esq.'s violence. Even though not much is shown, how does the movie suggest a general tension throughout?
What's special about Roman Israel? Is he an outcast or a misfit? When he does fit in, how does he do it?
According to the movie, can you make a living by helping others? Why would the two things be mutually exclusive?
How is drinking portrayed in the movie? Does there seem to be more drinking in a high-stress world? Why or why not?
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