The empty cinema could have been taken as foreboding. Couple that with the fact that this movie has barely been advertised and that nobody is talking about it, probably because of the clunky title (which no one can remember) and expectations were not set high for Dan Gilroy’s newest drama.
However, after the first couple of scenes, which are undeniably dull, the film finds its footing and establishes itself as a niche legal drama with bags of originality and a compelling plot that’s perfect for our times.
Denzel Washington trades his cool persona to play Roman; an awkward genius defence attorney who tries to stand by his ideals of social justice in a world ruled by greed and prejudice. Denzel adapts so brilliantly that it’ hard to believe he’s the same leading man from all those gangster epics. He certainly earned his best actor nomination, and may well have saved the film as, without Denzel’s stage presence, it could have been a very flat affair.
Carmen Ejogo plays Maya, a volunteer activist contrasted by Colin Farrell’s Beemer driving big shot George Pierce. Both represent the primary forces in Roman’s life, pulling him between a low-income lifestyle of seeking radical change, and a high flying fuck the little guy style of lawyerism. The characterisation is lazy; Maya wears a bandana so she must be an anarchist, and George’ slicked back hair and trim suit mean that he’s a bastard.
But overall, Gilroy presents a sharp critique of the American legal system and society at large that’s so on the nose it borders satire. Everyone can have a good legal defence, if they can afford it. The system is rigged to scare defendants into guilty pleas to avoid the mess of a proper trial. Dead homeless people can’t even be assured a real funeral without Roman stepping in to save the day.
It may be bleeding heart liberal cinema – it’s still a great movie.