Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
I want everyone to take a moment to think about a scenario. You spend your life trying your best to make an honest living to support your family. Then one day, you get arrested and charged with a murder you didn’t commit. You go to court and the trial is fixed from the beginning because of the color of your skin and the jury sentences you to death. Can you imagine the horror going through the minds of people in that circumstance? Well you don’t have to imagine anymore because Just Mercy shows you the true nature of racism in the death penalty. Through a combination of powerful performances, Just Mercy takes a deep dive into the horrors that predominantly black people face in the legal system and one man’s fight to undo this damage.
The film follows Bryan Stevenson (Jordan), a young Harvard Law School graduate who moves down to Alabama to work with inmates on death row. When he meets Walter McMillian (Foxx), a death row inmate, Bryan reviews his case and believes Walter is innocent. Bryan then spends the 136 minute runtime doing his best to gather enough evidence to overturn Walter’s verdict and reunite him with his family, but doing that in a racist town in Alabama isn’t going to make anything easier. While Jordan moves the plot forward and keeps everything together, the performance of Foxx in the supporting role is what elevates the movie and makes it spectacular. In every single scene he’s in, we see the wear and tear that life on death row has had on him. He’s broken down, emotionally beaten, and apathetic about Bryan’s efforts to free him. It’s awful to see just how destroyed this man has been by this sentence and with his impending death and Foxx displays these emotions perfectly. It helps set the tone for the rest of the movie and really raises the stakes of what Bryan’s fighting for. Speaking of the tone, I was amazed by Cretton’s ability to create a mood that hits you on a distinctly human level. The one thing everyone can take away from this movie is just how evil the situation Walter was placed in is. It’s sickening to think that this is based on a true story and that there are still people in our country that suffer the same fate as Walter to this very day. If this movie doesn’t make you feel some sort of way about the death penalty and racism in the justice system after watching Just Mercy, then I think we’ll just to accept that you’re lost in your ways. Through a combination of seasoned actors like Foxx and Larson and box office draws like Jordan, this movie was set up for immediate success, but Cretton’s ability to use pathos to show us the side of the legal system many of us will never face is what makes this movie special. I was expecting a good movie, but with the way all of these pieces work together makes Just Mercy one of the best movies of the year.
Overall, I’m having a tough time just writing this review because of the way Just Mercy has stuck with, and I’m confident that it will stick with other audience members too. I hope that the end result of a movie like Just Mercy is that people will view it as a call to action and spend their time fighting this type of injustice in their community. Only time will tell if this movie has any major impact, but I can say personally that Just Mercy only strengthened my passion for these issues and if we work hard enough one day these issues will be a thing of the past.
Overall Score: 9/10