The story of JUST MERCY, directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (SHORT TERM 12), begins in a forest. A logger looks up at a patch of sky, obscured moments ago by the tree he just fell. This becomes a significant memory. The way the branches are described as dancers in the wind. It’s the most powerful recollection of freedom taken unjustly.
The film follows the mission of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), and Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) in their newly formed Equal Justice Initiative. This organisation exists, and the film is based on real events. Bryan, in the story setting, is a recent law school graduate, and works to help those who have suffered from lacklustre legal representation. This work is primarily done at a death row penitentiary, and the majority of his clients are black Americans.
We see everything we might, regrettably, expect to see. It’s shown with such a genuine tone, that at times, we ourselves feel violated by the treatment given. We also relish in the strength of community, and really feel the support of every person crammed into a courthouse, or every clang against a jail cell bar.
The film has a very fearless presentation on the societal systems, mainly the criminal justice system, which have not been just to those that are poor or not white. It is truly a display of systemic racism, as prominent then as it is now. One can be left feeling a multitude of emotions for the fact that these events have happened.
Though we see many heartrending victims on death row, the story most closely follows Walter “Johnny D” MacMillian (Jamie Foxx), a person convicted on hearsay and prejudice. We learn that for every nine people executed, one has been proven innocent.
The movie has a running time of 137 minutes, yet its two and a half hours fly past. There’s a very noticeable flow to the story, and it’s perfect. The actors present such strong and memorable people; of note, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a fellow inmate with a tragic story of their own. We’re shown so many small details that come together, and craft gripping emotional moments. I was very appreciative of Bryan’s dialogue. It’s poetic, intelligent, and can seem like its own book of famous quotes.
JUST MERCY is a wonderful showcase of inequality, and angering truths. It could also appeal to those with interests in restorative justice, many principles of which could’ve been apt for many of the people we see. The Equal Justice Initiative continues to operate, and has given freedom back to many.
Editor’s note: This review is included with respect to Black History Month and as well the GRM team’s love for JUST MERCY. It is openly available for rental & purchase from many retailers and is streaming on Crave in Canada.