I am going to start by adding to some extra context to what I am going to write. Because I found Just Mercy to be not only extremely powerful, but also emotional.
I decided that I was going to review Just Mercy after a Thursday night viewing a week ago. I bought my ticket, not thinking about how busy and how emotional this week was going to be. I’ve done a lot of writing this week in the lead up to January 26, I’ve written about how I feel about it, I’ve reported for NITV on it and there’s more to come. It’s been exhaustive at the least.
So, when I finally got to the cinema Thursday night, I kicked back for the spare half an hour I had before the film started and had a couple pints while writing another article. The time came, so I closed my laptop and headed into to take my seat.
When the filmed started, I was all good, but a few minutes in when I saw Johnny D, played brilliantly by Jamie Foxx, get threatened and arrested, a wave of emotions rolled over me. I instantly realized that on the week of the anniversary that marked the beginning of the destruction of First Nations culture, I had chosen to watch a film that was about a bunch of racist, entitled, white guys trying to end the life of an innocent black man. From then I knew that this film was not going to be easy to sit through, for me at least.
Just Mercy recounts the time from when renowned, real life, Civil Rights Defence Attorney Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, began defending Walter McMillian, also known as Johnny D, played by the aforementioned Jamie Foxx.
Johnny D was arrested for murder in the late 80’s, and subsequently put on death row for a crime that he was innocent from doing. If you don’t know this from reading about it or seeing it unfold in the early 90’s, then it’s a pretty easy story to unfold in your imagination in the first 20 minutes of the film. But it’s how it happens that really strikes you. Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson is also on board as Eva Ansley, Bryan Stevenson’s operation manager, and is true ally throughout the entire case. She is great. She is Oscar winner Brie Larson. I need not say more.
The other key actors in the film are O’Shea Jackson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, Michael Harding and Rafe Spall (doing his best snivelling serious Bradley Whitford in Billy Madison impression) and their presence only serves to bring the stature of this film into a higher standing.
I truly found all of the performances to be outstanding. But of course, the highest honours go to Jordan and Foxx.
Directed by Destin Daniel Crettin, I found Just Mercy to be very well put together. From the fantastic, all round performances, to the locations and settings – it all came together. There wasn’t one thing that was out of place – except for Johnny D.
Written by Destin Daniel Crettin and Andrew Lanham based on a book by Bryan Stevenson himself, Just Mercy was confronting and touching, putting put an emotional weight on my shoulders that I was not expecting. This is why I gave a bit of extra context above – I don’t believe that my experience I this film will be the same for others.
It’s a shame that this film wasn’t released late last year to hopefully garner a few awards here and there. Being released now almost feels like it’s intentional, by the end of the year, this amazingly acted, well directed, and powerful drama will be well and truly forgotten, likely keeping the awards contenders as white as they normally are.
All in all, Just Mercy is an incredible film making by an incredible team. I really enjoyed it, regardless of what it made me feel.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, (based on the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson)