A society is judged on its adherence to the rule of law. But what happens when racial tensions, false evidence and a focus on emotion over logic prevails in the investigation and sentencing of a crime. That’s where Just Mercy takes us in a powerful story of truth, hope and the quest for justice.
Attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) takes the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), an African-American man wrongfully imprisoned for the 1986 murder of a white woman in Alabama and sentenced to death.
One whizz kid director who is rapidly climbing the Hollywood ladder is Destin Daniel Cretton and his work on Just Mercy announces him as a filmmaker with incredible promise. With Just Mercy he crafts a film that reaches into his audience’s soul and examines the cost at which we must pay to obtain justice. Cretton shows a terrific command of narrative and character and builds out a story that his audience invest in and ultimately feel connected to. Alongside his commitment to the film’s narrative, Cretton also does an amazing job in capturing Just Mercy. Working alongside cinematographer Brett Pawlak, the two capture it with a palette of heavy browns and drab greens that put the audience into the muddy, and distressed area of the film’s Southern setting and highlights the uphill battle that Stevenson faces.
For some time now actor Michael B. Jordan has been making waves in Hollywood for his committed performances and ability to handle a range of diverse narratives and characters. Now he steps up in a big way and cements himself as one of the bright lights of his generation with his performance as Bryan Stevenson, a criminal defence lawyer who has devoted his life to fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. Jordan’s performance as Stevenson is led by a commitment to the truth and to what is right as he takes up the fight against the State of Alabama’s right to execution, and tries to save the condemned men on its death row. A strong sense of idealism and a commitment to the law are what feed Jordan’s performance and he is steadfast in his convictions. While he strives for the acquittal of the innocent, in the case of Walter McMillian, he is a strict follower of the law and understands that there are men on the row who have committed murder and other heinous crimes. However his equal devotion to both human rights and justice is what shapes his performance here and he only wants what is just for his clients, whether they be innocent or guilty.
The setting of Just Mercy is what helps to shape Jordan’s turn as Stevenson as much of his actions takes place in the town of Monroeville, Alabama, the very place where Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird and where her hero Atticus Finch made his plea for justice. In Stevenson, we see a man who is a real-life Atticus, a man who is fighting to re-do wrongs and trying to put the world back to a just place. There’s so much that tests Jordan as an actor, from the film’s focus on a heightened sense of racial tension to having to bear witness to the horrors of the electric chair, Jordan wrestles with some very heavy drama and it shows through in his performance. Just Mercy is Jordan’s finest hour as an actor and he gives a performance that lingers in the minds of all those who watch it.
Sitting across from Jordan’s Stevenson is the always remarkable Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, also known as John D, who is awaiting execution for a crime he didn’t commit and his performance here is haunting. We’ve come to know Foxx as an exceptionally gifted performer and here he plays a character who has been beaten down by the system and who seemingly has lost all hope and who, in essence, has no way out. Foxx’s performance as Walter McMillian is his rawest to date and his most revelatory at the same time. This burning sense of suffering in the darkness and a call to hope in the light plagues Walter at every turn and as the film reaches its third act and all eyes are focused on whether Walter will be acquitted and be allowed to live, or whether he’ll be sent back to the row and his death, you’re on the edge of your seat. Foxx’s performance feeds all of this and Just Mercy is his finest hour as a performer to date.
Just Mercy is joined by many themes with its central one being justice. This is a film that analyzes and makes a statement about America’s criminal justice system, and how it is fed many times by a lingering racism and a refusal to acknowledge the evidence and therefore the truth. Cretton focuses on his characters actions and the reactions that occur from said actions to study and point out the flaws in this system, but he also focuses on the good of justice and those who work to honour it and fulfil its duties. This exploration of justice is also joined by the possibility and promise of hope and it is here that Just Mercy truly gets your emotions going and pulls you inside the film’s narrative.
Just Mercy is an incredible piece of cinema that will imprint itself on your soul. It’s heartfelt, raw, and emotionally dense and audiences who watch it will feel a profound sense of emotion thanks to its unforgettable story and message.
Image: Roadshow Films