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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

LFF 2019: Just Mercy Movie Review

Just Mercy, presented by Warner Bros, is a death row drama based on real events.

The film follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice.

After graduating from Harvard, Bryan might have had his pick of lucrative jobs.

Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Brie Larson.)

One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx,) who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl.

This sentence was passed despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie.

In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political manoeuvrings.

Subsequently, he faces overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter and others like him, with the odds-and the system-stacked against them.

Given the recent rise in content like When They See Us, this film too acts as a harsh reminder of how Black Americans have suffered to years of ignorance and bigotry.

It is quite ironic that a town which celebrates the creation of To Kill a Mockingbird for addressing racism during the 1930s.

Yet, decades later, the racism still occurs and Alabama, as a state is a silent witness to the bigotry.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton adapts a very smooth, simple and impactful approach in his filmmaking style.

The passing camera shots of white people living in posh house contrasted to blacks living in cramped conditions are sufficient to showcase the disparity between whites and blacks.

Despite it being a prison/death-row drama, it is not darkly morbid.

In fact, sequences where inmates joke with each other and supporting each other, which is quite a different view for a prison film.

At the same time, Cretton makes one cry during poignant sequences especially the execution scenes.

Such montages captivate the viewers’ attention and give goosebumps.

Just Mercy is not restricted to being a death row or crime documentary. It rises above the criminality aspect and focuses more on inequality in an unjust society.

This is another shocking exposé on how bias and xenophobia clouds rationality, causing several legal miscarriages.

As such, the prison itself is a metaphor and it symbolises how the confinement extends to the families of those wrongly accused as Walter’s family members says: “We’re all in death row.”  

‘Criminals’ in this movie are shown to be victims of social injustice.

With regards to symbolism, the two protagonists represent two ideologies. 

On one hand, Bryan is emblematic of hope and determination. Given that he is the voice of youths and innocence, many others doubt his abilities to free the wrongly accused inmates.

On the other hand, Walter in a way epitomises defeat. His voice of experience and coming to terms with reality overshadows the hope of truth being revealed.

It is interesting to see how two men of the same country and skin colour fight against a flawed/ignorant system.

Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan’s performances are the strongest factors about the film.

Jordan is impactful in every scene. He displays the strength and vulnerability of a new attorney with such craft.

His prowess is best displayed during the court scenes and his dialogue delivery is par excellence.

Foxx is an incredible talent and he proves it yet again with a formidable performance.

The highlight of his act is his outburst scene in the prison cell. He encapsulates every nuance of Walter McMillian convincingly.

Scenes featuring both Jamie and Michael in the frame are supremely effective to watch.

Whilst the movie, overall, is an engaging watch, the slow pace with an erratic screenplay decreases the cinematic ability. 

Plus, it could’ve been much shorter. I feel that it unnecessarily takes too long for the main crux to unfold. 

Above all, however, Just Mercy covers a key chapter in American history.

The film conveys a timeless powerful message which exceeds any prison or death-row unit.

Ultimately, Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan’s phenomenal performances drive the film to success.

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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