Crime Drama

'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' TIFF 2017 Review: Expectations run high for 'Nightcrawler' follow-up

September 16, 2017Ben MK

A last minute addition to this year's Toronto International Film Festival, Roman J. Israel, Esq. marks Nightcrawler writer/director Dan Gilroy's second feature, and, like his highly acclaimed first film, it's a character-driven crime drama set against the backdrop of Los Angeles.

This time, the story focuses on Roman (Denzel Washington), a veteran lawyer used to working behind the scenes rather than in the courtroom, who's also a savant when it comes to his textbook knowledge of the judiciary system. A passionate advocate for civil rights, Roman has spent the past 26 years as a silent partner in a two-man law firm specializing in criminal defense cases. But when his professional other half suffers a heart attack and dies, he finds himself cash-strapped, compromising his values and making a decision that will come back to haunt him.

From a narrative perspective, the result meanders, only building some much-needed tension in its third act before finally fizzling out. That said, Washington's turn as this odd but affable legal beagle proves every bit as compelling as Jake Gyllenhaal's sociopathic stringer. And for that reason, Roman J. Israel, Esq. earns an acquittal.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is receiving its world premiere as part of TIFF 2017's Special Presentations programme. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 9 min.

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