Just Mercy is an entertaining film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx who turn in some great performances. Unfortunately, it falls deep into the category of ‘Been There, Done That’ — Or, we’ve seen this all before. It’s Hollywood’s 2020 version of To Kill A Mockingbird.
Just Mercy almost has that feeling of a remake, yet it’s based on a totally different, yet familiar scenario. The film exposes the criminal justice system as deeply flawed — especially in the case where a black man is accused of murdering a white woman in Alabama. It’s an age old story of racists, KKK, southern prejudices and confederate flags.
Although somewhat engaging – Just Mercy is yet another film which telegraphs it’s predictable outcome long before the ending credits begin.
At times Just Mercy feels like we are watching someone walking through thick mud while using all available energy to get going but continuing to held to a slow pace by the resistance he is walking through.
The depiction of the process of justice as a slow moving entity is quite effective, but at times it forces the script to move as does the process, it too slowly. It Also demonstrates the resistance of an institution, in this case the American justice system, to admit errors or mistakes. The force to protect entities occurs everywhere, it doesn’t matter if it is a religious church, a chemical company or any other organization the force is to protect rather than expose errors which occur.
Just Mercy reminds me of the film from 1948 Call Northside 777 with James Stewart as a reporter who is convinced that Richard Conte who has been jailed for years is innocent. His determination proves Conte could not have committed the crime, but the powers to be are not helpful probably because the real criminal was never caught. It placed a hole in the record of an institution. Just Mercy has a similar conclusion and the local sheriff is never satisfied.
Racial tones fill the conviction of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) even when many folks had stated he was not near the site of the crime. McMillian spent time on death row until Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) was assigned to work on the validity of six cases on death row. He is guided and helped by Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) who also believes in the project they work for.
Just Mercy has powerful performances, Jamie Foxx has received the best supporting actor award from the “African-American Film Critics Association” and Michael B. Jordan carries most of the weight in the film. Two spectacular performances however are turned in by Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Meyers who is pressured to change his testimony when it is discovered he was offered a deal to identify McMillian as the killer. His character is presented as a man who moved through a bitter foster family situations and was burned in the cellar of one of his foster homes. He speaks with distorted lips and we can’t help but understand his actions even when they were wrong.
The other outstanding performance is turned in by Rob Morgan as Herbert Richardson who admitted he killed a woman and feels guilt, but has significant baggage from fighting in war, he shakes and has difficulty speaking. He must deal with death row, a veteran who was broken by his service.
The joy and pain in Just Marcy will stay with you long after the lights come up.