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Metronome Sessions

Film Review: Just Mercy

22 January 20 words: Hollie Anderson

Michael B. Jordan fights injustice within the justice system in this compelling true story...

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson
Running time: 136 minutes

Just Mercy follows the true story of lawyer Bryan Stevenson – founder of the Equal Justice Initiative – during his trailblazing fight to free Walter McMillian from death row, after being wrongly accused of killing a white woman in the 1980s. With trailers for films like Queen & Slim also previewing before the main feature, it’s clear that Hollywood is still grappling with racism and the law. Can something like Just Mercy bring something new to the debate? 

Absolutely.

It is a fascinating insight into how activists are fighting injustices from within a legal system already corrupted against them. It also refuses to paint every white person as a villain, and every black man as a victim; performances balance and bounce off each other to offer a vibrant and brilliantly rounded view of reality. 

Michael B. Jordan delivered every moment of disbelief, outrage and heartbreak perfectly. Ultimately, as well, the warmth he conveys when with McMillian’s family speaks volumes for the work of the Equal Justice Initiative and the legacy it still has today. Rob Morgan, playing the stammering and PTSD-suffering Herbert Richardson, was heart-breaking but also a reminder that guilt is not always as cut-and-dried a matter as people think. 

Likewise, Rafe Spall as Tommy Chapman and Michael Harding as Sheriff Tate pair brilliantly as representatives of both the tides of change and deep-seated, unshakeable bigotry. 

The music that features in small snippets throughout are the perfect selection – enriching moments of everyday life and adding an aching poignancy to the more difficult events. 

One seat away from me was another woman who was crying from half way through

Better still were the scenes encapsulating the beauty of the southern states. Bryan’s drive down a white street, followed later in the film by a drive through the poorer, black neighbourhoods were a subtle yet striking tool. Extremes of wealth and poverty were so clear, and yet basic, common humanity shone through; family life and pride are echoed in both with the American flag, kids in the pool and old men on their porch swings. 

That’s not to say that everything was perfect, though. We start the story with Bryan Stevenson as a student, visiting a man in prison. Then, he’s suddenly packing his bags heading to Alabama. I kept finding myself questioning how, in a world of so much hate, he went from his working-class background to a Harvard degree. More of his backstory would have been truly interesting. 

Also, Jamie Foxx seems severely underused and we never get a strong sense of Walter McMillian as a man. The audience isn’t especially compelled to fight for him – but, rather, fight against the injustices Bryan experiences instead. Female characters like Minnie McMillian and Eva Ansley deserved more screen time. 

All in all, it is a story about the sheer audacity mankind can have, and a reminder that for many discrimination and death row are still a very real threat. One seat away from me was another woman who was crying from half way through, there were audible gasps in the cinema during the final hearing, and people applauded when the credits began to roll. That doesn’t happen for every film. It is a triumph. 

Did you know? The film takes its name from Bryan Stevenson's memoir, which he wrote in 2014.

Just Mercy is in cinemas now

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