Movie Review: JUST MERCY Starring Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx
Just Mercy is a powerful true story that follows real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) from Delaware to Alabama where he takes his Harvard Law degree to serve the wrongfully convicted and those who cannot afford representation. The film focuses on his first breakthrough in reforming the death penalty as he represents Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man who’s wrongfully accused and sentenced to death with the only evidence against him being from another convicted felon who may or may not have been coerced into lying. Throughout the film’s entirety, Bryan and his team fight an uphill battle to reform the death penalty and save the innocent lives of those who are truly in need of saving.
If the plot sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of 1999’s The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington – another true and powerful story about doing the right thing and tackling the unjust and overt racism that exists in the corrupt systems that are supposed to protect us. Both films stand on their own and convey the same powerful and inspiring message and both do so very well. I just wanted to get the comparison out of the way early. If anything, the fact that both of these films are sadly true stories should be enough to maybe make the viewer reevaluate their position on some things or generate discussion and fight for what’s right.
What elevates the movie from somewhat conventional to great (as far as courtroom movies go) is the cast. Michael B. Jordan is on point and adds another solid performance to his already stellar repertoire. His performance in conveying Stevenson’s conviction and dedication to helping those who’ve been cheated by the system makes it easy to root for him in this battle that is firmly stacked against him. He’s emotionally charged but level headed throughout and like every film I’ve seen him in, he carries the weight and elevates the film. Tack on Brie Larson for a small role as his sidekick who wants to see justice done in her community and you got yourself a powerful duo.
Jamie Foxx is fantastic as well in quite a few scenes giving some incredibly emotional dialogue at times, despite not getting to learn a whole lot about his character outside of prison. Unlike The Hurricane, the film isn’t about getting just one wrongfully convicted man acquitted, so when his moment comes, it didn’t feel as powerful to me as I think it should have. Though of course, it was obviously a monumental first stone overturned in Stevenson’s journey to reforming the death penalty.
The film is shot well and the pacing was what you’d expect for a courtroom drama. The first twenty or so minutes drug a little, but once Stevenson established his office in Alabama and began looking hard into the local cases, things ramped up into an exciting, although mostly predictable, resolution. I guess that comes with it being a true story though.
When the end credits rolled, there were several title cards that showed side-by-sides of the characters and their real life counterparts. Kudos to the casting director because the resemblances were uncanny. The performances were great and the film flowed well at a brisk ninety minutes making it a solid January 2020 release.