Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton – Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, Brie Larson
You just know it’s award-season, when a glut of earnest and worthy movies start landing in cinemas.
This is yet another ‘based on a true story’ offering, of which there are so many at the moment. Jordan plays real-life social justice activist and lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, that has tirelessly worked to free people wrongly convicted, and imprisoned, on death row for decades.
Just Mercy deals with one of his first high-profile cases – that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), an African American man. He was wrongfully imprisoned for the 1986 murder of a white woman, and sentenced to death. This is despite numerous witnesses placing him miles away from the crime, at a church fish-fry event. Despite no evidence connecting him to the incident, a witness claimed to have seen him there, and he languished on death row until Stevenson became aware of his case, and took it on.
This story has been well publicised – it was even the subject of a 60 Minutes episode – so it’s not a spoiler to say that justice eventually wins out, and McMillian is freed. And it probably wouldn’t be much of a story if he wasn’t. But this film isn’t just about his fight to clear his name. It’s about the systems that allowed this to happen, and the shocking miscarriages and racism that are apparently so prevalent in the Alabama Court System.
Foxx is fabulous as McMillian, and he has rightly received award-nods. His performance overshadows pretty much everyone else on the screen, which is saying something, when you look at the calibre of the rest of the cast.
The pacing is good, and this never really dips. Not even during long court scenes, which can be tricky to nail, and have been known to become tedious. At 136 minutes, it doesn’t feel overstretched. Cretton avoids the temptation to be overly schmaltzy, or to make unlikeable real life characters warmer. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a couple of scenes to tug at your heart strings. The execution of one of McMillian’s fellow death-row inmates is wonderfully handled, and will definitely provoke reactions about the reality of capital punishment.
It is impossible not to feel outraged by Just Mercy, and disgusted that a miscarriage of this magnitude could happen in such recent history. This is an incredibly thought-provoking tale, and it is told extremely well.
A solid drama that is made all the more engaging because it really happened. There is a danger this will get swallowed up by some of the more high profile movies this awards season, which would be a shame, as Just Mercy is a really affecting watch that lingers long after the credits roll.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: