Starring Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Rafe Spall, Tim Blake Nelson
It’s been a while since we had a powerful wrongly accused, racial discrimination courtroom drama. Upcoming “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” director Destin Daniel Cretton continues his collaborations with Brie Larson (“Short Term 12,” “The Glass House”) in “Just Mercy.” The subject matter and the simplistic way the story is told mirrors 90s classics “A Time to Kill” and “Ghosts of Mississippi.” “Just Mercy’s” compelling true story draws the audience into its narrative even when the pacing and performances only barely get the job done. Cretton doesn’t find much new ground in this genre but its noble message of “fight for the people who need it most” is a topic worth repeating. “Just Mercy” is the third film this year to take a sobering look at America’s wrongly accused on death row, “Clemency” and “Trial By Fire” are the lesser two.
Armed with a law degree from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) could have chosen any corner of the country to start a practice. Instead, he travels from Delaware to the Deep South in the late early 90’s to work with men on death row who were denied a fair trial. He starts with six inmates but ends up focusing most of his little operations attention on Walter McMillian (Foxx). Accused of murder and sentenced to the electric chair in a case that had no fingerprints, evidence, and only one witness, it doesn’t take Stevenson long to find witnesses and evidence to prove the father of three is innocent. Getting one of the most racially discriminatory states, Alabama, to reopen or retry McMillian’s case will take an act of God.
"The big difference here is Jordan’s character, fighting fire with fire, easily the smartest person in the town made famous for "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Stevenson can’t even set foot inside the prison without having to strip completely naked, humiliating him for the prison guard’s amusement. Scene after scene shows how this town is like many of the others we see in these films and a bomb scare phone call takes its cue (and identical framing) right from “Ghosts of Mississippi.” The big difference here is Jordan’s character, fighting fire with fire, easily the smartest person in the town made famous for “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s Foxx who gives the only real showcase performance in his supporting role. Tim Blake Nelson deserves props for his twisted face contortion and compelling witness testimony scene. The production design fully transports the viewer to 1993, complete with cordless phones with long antenna’s, Brie Larson’s permed hair and those iconic vintage police cars.
Despite not breaking any new ground, “Just Mercy” is still a rousing drama about hope and the belief that effort and conviction can change the world, one person at a time. Jordan is the second most prominent Marvel star breaking away from conventional roles to find new ground as an actor. While he doesn’t deliver the type of award-worthy performance his co-star Johansson did with “Marriage Story,” he’s still an actor that brings dignity to everything he does. “Just Mercy” lacks real below the line impressiveness, while it’s likely not an award contender, the weight of subject matter and star power could sneak Foxx into the supporting actor race depending on it’s publicity and circulation.
"Just Mercy" fails to cover any new ground but its powerful story of perseverance runs the gamut of emotions."