Just Mercy centers on Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard lawyer, who dedicates his career to fighting for people on death row. He moves down to Alabama and takes Walter McMillian’s (Jaime Foxx) case to try to prove his innocence.
If this year wasn’t so stacked, this film would’ve easily made the Best Picture list at the 2020 Oscars. Unfortunately, some films get left behind and Just Mercy had to compete with Little Women and 1917, and I did enjoy those films more. However Just Mercy proves to be an incredibly powerful film that shines light on a topic that not everybody likes to think about.
The film is very conventional at times, and I’m sure you can figure out the ending to this film. But it’s worth seeing despite that. I initially dismissed the film due to the trailer which seemed very paint-by-numbers and a bit preachy. However, it highlights the struggles and adversities that seem to never end for people of color.
The beginning of the film is a bit slow and parts of the film are a bit sluggish. It was not until a harrowing scene involving an inmate named Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) that you start to really get invested in the film and realize how unjust, horrifying, and flat out wrong it is to put an innocent or undeserving black man on death row.
The director of this film, Destin Daniel Cretton, also directed, Short Term 12, which if you haven’t seen I highly recommend though it’s not exactly a feel good story. And wow does he know how to pack an emotional punch. Cretton makes sure to showcase the racism that infects this town, whether it’s racial profiling, threatening witnesses, or police corruption. All of which add to the audience’s outrage and makes the film setting’s feel like it takes place in the 1960s when it’s actually set in the late 80s and early 90s.
I’d say Jaime Foxx’s performance was the one that impressed me the most out of the main cast, though I did love Rob Morgan in his small role. Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson was also good, but he had a lot of lawyer talk, which is not very compelling to watch. Brie Larson was pleasant in her small role as Stevenson’s assistant, though her Southern accent could’ve used some more work. And lastly, I felt that the DA, and antagonist of the story, was fairly stereotypical and a bit over the top.
I think Just Mercy would go great as a double feature with Ava Duvernay’s 13th, a documentary on Netflix which also tackles the topic of black imprisonment in America and how it got to be so disproportionate. I think both films do an excellent job at pointing out the injustices faced by black people being wrongly imprisoned. And I hope that Just Mercy adds to the awareness and is a call to arms to take institutional racism out of the United States’ prison system.
Overall, Just Mercy is a powerful film that shed light on the heroics of Bryan Stevenson. However, the conventional nature this story is told through is the movie’s downfall, though many (including myself) will still find it incredibly impactful.
I give Just Mercy a B.