Media Mindfulness Blog

"Roman J. Israel, Esq." and Solidarity

"Roman J. Israel, Esq." and Solidarity

Solidarity, or to be in solidarity with others, means that we acknowledge that we are all brothers and sisters who are called to love one another regardless of differences. Solidarity also means that we are called to work together to make the world a better place for everyone.


The term “solidarity” came into global awareness and became part of cultural discourse when the anti-Communist Polish trade union Solidarność became a social movement in support of worker’s rights and broad social change in the early 1980s. St. John Paul II greatly supported this movement in his native Poland. Lech Wałęsa headed the union. As a result of his efforts to support the solidarity union, 37 year-old Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was killed by Polish agents in 1984. He was beatified in 2010 and is considered a martry and an example of what Pope John Paul called in his 1987 encyclical, On Social Change, a Christian virtue.


Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. In what has been said so far it has been possible to identify many points of contact between solidarity and charity, which is the distinguishing mark of Christ's disciples (cf. Jn 13:35). In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One's neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One's neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person's sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one's life for the brethren (cf. 1 Jn 3:16). [40]


Roman J. Israel, Esq.


When someone asks the reclusive attorney Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) what “Esquire” means at the end of his name, he explains that it is a designation lawyers use, “somewhere above gentleman and below a knight.”


Following the stroke and death of Mr. Jackson, Roman’s mentor and employer at their law firm, his niece, Lynn Jackson (Amanda Warren), closes down the firm and hands everything over to George Pierce (Colin Farrell.) While Mr. Jackson made all the court appearances, Roman prepared the cases in a meticulous fashion. As a savant, possibly somewhere on the autism spectrum, Roman lacks social skills. However, he bears the burdens of those who are treated unfairly by the justice system through over charging suspects and the assembly line “plead ‘em out” approach of Los Angeles prosecutors. His deep empathy has prodded him to work for years on a class action case against the federal government for its fast track prosecutions and warehousing of criminals who have been denied due process.


George is fascinated by Roman but brushes off his passion to help those who are treated unfairly by the system. Roman seeks employment elsewhere but failing this, ends up back with George’s posh firm. He’s not good at pleading out people and exasperates his colleagues; he’d rather his clients plead not guilty, discover evidence and go to trial. Since his way is not working he decides to give up his zeal for the law and become a sleek, sloppy lawyer like everyone else.


“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is a film all about the law, both civil and, though unspoken, divine. Roman is a knight for victims who veers off his chosen track. When he decides to turn himself in, disgusted at his own failure, things come to a head.


Roman is a character that sacrifices the chance for marriage and family early on for the sake of upholding the law for those who do not receive justice. He stands in solidarity with victims of the system, giving everything. Roman is a model of human solidarity.


The original film is very intelligent though it is almost too verbal. Washington is terrific, as usual, and inhabits the role of this gifted, socially challenged lawyer in a way that shows us how we can take a stand with others, how we can stand for something beyond ourselves even when those who should know better ignore, mock, or punish us. Change, the reward, will come.


“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” comes to theaters in limited release on November 17th and wide release on November 22nd.





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