This is an intriguing combination: Writer/director Dan Gilroy, who previously made the piercing tabloid media satire Nightcrawler, partnering with Denzel Washington for a legal thriller about an idealistic man forced to make moral compromises after decades of high-minded living. The film is called Roman J. Israel, Esq. after Washington’s character, who loses his job at a small Los Angeles law firm dedicated to social justice and winds up working for an honest but materialistic lawyer played by Colin Farrell. Can he maintain his commitment to helping people? Or will he seduced by the promise of money and luxury?

Obviously I’m not going to spoil the answers, but you get a taste of them in the trailer above, which hints at Roman making a very questionable decision in the course of his representation of a client. Here’s the official synopsis:

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when a turbulent series of events challenge the activism that has defined his career. Colin Farrell costars as the ambitious, monied lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm.

It’s funny; just describing this movie, I want to see it. It sounds like a great subject, and a great set of themes, for Washington and the man who made Nightcrawler. But I have seen it, at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. And to be totally honest, I was not a huge fan. The plot that I’ve described takes almost half the film’s runtime to get going and before that it feels like an aimless, messy character study of a guy who is a jumble of contradictions and quirks. If you want to see the movie and decide for yourself (and if you’re a fan of Nightcrawler or Denzel, I wouldn’t blame you if you do), it opens in theaters on November 3.

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