‘Roman J. Israel, Esq’ Trailer: Denzel Washington’s Latest Transformation

Denzel Washington goes Dan Gilroy-esque.
By  · Published on October 6th, 2017

Denzel Washington goes Dan Gilroy-esque.

Nightcrawler is the prime example of how cinema can effectively turn the camera on society’s failures, challenging viewers with a completely unsympathetic yet undeniably quirky protagonist. Roman J. Israel, Esq looks apt to continue this pattern, albeit in a different field. Writer-director Dan Gilroy opts to tackle the Los Angeles criminal justice system this time around. The new trailer for the Denzel Washington starrer is feisty and obstinate, and absolutely intriguing.

Any similarity between Roman J. Israel, Esq and Nightcrawler could just be a surface level situation. Where Lou Bloom seems to operate with a kind of morality only he could understand, irreverent behavior and an unflinching sense of self is ostensibly aimed at a greater good for Roman Israel. However, Roman’s principles end up being tainted by his disillusionment in the legal justice system. Instead, as the trailer suggests, Roman uses his resources as a lawyer in the name of self-interest, and everything appears to come crashing down for the brazen, street-smart lawyer.

This is very much an actor’s movie, as Gilroy himself has pointed out — he wrote Roman for Washington specifically:

“Roman is defined by his belief in something greater than himself. He’s a man of faith. He has this common, universal humanity to him that he believes. Denzel, if you research Denzel, he’s literally a man of faith. […] I think one of the reasons why Denzel dissolves into the character is because they’re so close to each other in so many ways. Denzel embodies the idea of a man living his life on terms that are based on a cause — going toward something. That’s why I really wrote it for him.”

Inarguably, Gilroy wrote Roman and understands him the best. But I can’t help but feel that distinguishing faith as the character’s primary trait is vital. The elusive notion of faith reminds audiences that Roman J. Israel, Esq doesn’t necessarily have to glorify any of the characters or even the narrative as a whole. This legal drama doesn’t have to have an outright moral; Nightcrawler certainly didn’t. Lou had a ton of faith in Nightcrawler and didn’t have to suffer any consequences for his less savory actions. To say whether Roman J. Israel, Esq will follow those footsteps entirely is impossible, but considering Gilroy’s previous directorial project, I have a feeling we won’t be getting the easy way out.

For the time being — and we only have a trailer to go from for now — we’ll have to assume that any indication of Roman getting his due for his selfishness can’t fully be trusted. Not after he gets no recognition for an equal amount of self-sacrifice.

The trailer ends with Washington’s ominous voiceover: “Each of us greater than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The beauty of that line is how simultaneously self-righteous and selfless it could be, depending on the context. We’ll just have to wait until November 3rd to find out which if any sides will be taken at all.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)