‘Just Mercy’ movie review: Spotlights a much-needed victory against a corrupt system

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in ‘Just Mercy’

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in ‘Just Mercy’  

Destin Daniel Cretton’s movie unravels like a predictable drama, but the magnitude of its story overcomes all odds

Most folks in Just Mercy’s Montgomery (Alabama) are keen that visitors stop by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird museum. It’s the late 1980s, and the Alabama town has been a centre of the Civil Rights Movement. The irony doesn’t go unnoticed then when African American Harvard-educated attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is stripped, searched and told to bend over by a white guard while visiting his clients on death row. Civil rights may have been granted, but racial prejudice is just as prevalent.

After receiving a federal grant, Stevenson and Eve Ansley (Brie Larson) are an idealistic duo hell-bent on helping those who need it most. In Destin Daniel Cretton’s film, based on true events, Walter McMillian (Jaime Foxx) is wrongfully convicted of the murder of an 18-year-old white woman. The black pulpwood worker is sentenced to death a year before his trial. This, in spite of having several witnesses from his community testifying to Walter’s presence at a gathering when the murder took place. All appeals to stay the death penalty have been rejected.

Just Mercy
  • Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall
  • Storyline: Walter McMillian is sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit and Harvard-educated attorney Bryan Stevenson is out to get the innocent man the justice he deserves

As Just Mercy’s ramrod linear narrative plays out, it’s arrestingly evident that McMillian’s story and not a powerful script moves the audience. Injustice, of any kind can stir spirits but it’s particularly heart wrenching when an innocent man faces death because of prejudice and the ineptitude of authorities. Sadly, the weight of the American incident reverberates all across the world, even in 2020, calling to mind ‘terrorist’ Afzal Guru’s execution in India.

For his part, Cretton’s faithful retelling of history elicits the required response, even if he’s unable to architect sufficient context for characters beyond his protagonists. Foxx as a faithless man on death row is a quiet powerhouse as is the earnest sincerity of Jordon’s pursuit of justice. But it’s unfortunate when an actor like Larson gets short-changed. Her character’s contribution — majorly significant if not as equal as the real-life Stevenson’s — is unmemorable.

Thankfully, as Stevenson’s work bore fruition in reality, Cretton’s film spotlights a much-needed victory against a corrupt system. A win, we all need to be reminded of in this day and age.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2020 1:29:10 AM |

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