DIR: Destin Daniel Cretton • WRI: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham • DOP: Brett Pawlak • ED: Nat Sanders • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Asher Goldstein, Gil Netter • MUS: Joel P. West • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx
Just Mercy is a story surrounding the legislative corruption, that took place in late-’80s America, depicting the harrowing reality that the impoverished and minority communities faced, within the post Jim Crow era of Alabama. With a star-studded cast, director Destin Daniel Cretton, sets out to portray the real life story of Walter MacMillan based upon the memoirs of social justice activist and attorney Bryan Stevenson.
This legal drama follows Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, a Harvard graduate of law from Delaware; making the career decision to become a representative of criminals falsely convicted on death row in Alabama. True to the real life events, set in the year 1989, Stevenson meets with Eva Ansley, played by Brie Larson, and begins the Equal Justice Initiative in order to give fair representation to those falsely sentenced to death. During this process Stevenson meets Walter Macmillan, played by Jamie Foxx, an African American convict on death row. Stevenson quickly begins to find flaws within MacMillan’s prosecution and begins building a case in order to repeal the conviction. This leads to many moments of hopeful new evidence coming to fruition and moments of despair as a new trial or tribulation must be overcome by MacMillan and Stevenson. With the state of Alabama, and southern America, personified by the villainous Sheriff and the spineless District Attorney, Stevenson faces down all odds in order to prove MacMillan’s innocence.
This compelling series of events, along with a plethora of A-list cast members, makes for a moving watch as Foxx truly provides a performance worthy of a pit in the stomach and a lump in the throat. Seeing not only the arduous nature of prison life but also the unique horrors that befall only those on death row. The audience can almost relate to the panic Foxx conveys when being detained for a crime he had no part in; this scene in particular echoing connotations of Ava DuVernay’s When they See Us.
Rob Morgan, playing Herbert Richardson, one of MacMillan’s fellow inmates, is arguably the best performance in the film and indisputably the most moving. Tim Blake Nelson, playing the believed villain of the plot, also displays his acting capabilities and gives the nature of the plot a new perspective on the overall subject. However, while these performances were to a very high standard, other characters such as Brie Larson’s and O’Shea Jackson Jr, felt unimportant and forgettable. Michael B. Jordan’s character also felt rather shallow, as the character seemed poorly paced and lacked any true flaws or vices; making this portrayal of Stevenson more like a heroic myth than a passionate civil rights activist. This highlights another critique, as the film’s pacing seemed very disorganised and seems in two minds as to whether or not it wants to flesh out the events that took place or the characters involved and due to this felt twenty minutes too long. However, the aesthetic and accompanying soundtrack capture the setting effectively making for a mostly captivating watch.
In conclusion, while Just Mercy is a saddening real-life event and portrays perfectly the emotion behind the oppression faced by the black community in America, it does match the quality of films based around similar stories of oppression made in recent times. Examples of this such as If Beale Street Could Talk and The Hate U Give and Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman, all made in 2018, bare identical traits – and the upcoming Queen and Slim surrounds the same premise. So while the acting was of a high quality, Just Mercy does not particularly stand out in such an array of films with similar ideological standings.
This being said, the real life events alone are of an inspiring nature that is powerful and important to learn through the medium of film.
12A (see IFCO for details)
Just Mercy is released 17th January 2020