PG Score: 8.25/10
Just Mercy is a special film. The descriptor that comes to mind above all else is the word "powerful." This well-constructed take on a true story sets its foundation on providing a hard, honest look at a controversial topic and is further anchored by a tour de force performance from Michael B. Jordan.
The film is based on the book of the same name, written by the real-life figure Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a civil rights defense attorney who is responsible for creating the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted, have inadequate counsel, and others who may have been denied a fair trial. More specifically, JM follows Bryan as he fights to gain freedom for Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a wrongfully convicted death row inmate in Alabama. Bryan is aided by EJI Operations Director Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) in his quest to earn Walter’s freedom in a system that is stacked against him.
Part of what makes the film so impactful is its direct messaging on the plethora of issues within our justice system. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) supplies the viewer with facts and insights that, while difficult to digest, are absolutely vital to consider. He also adds yet another spark to the debate over the ethics of the death penalty. Make no mistake, this is a heavy film and it tackles these important topics head-on. What makes it even more impressive is that it juggles these pieces while simultaneously serving as a character-study on a remarkable individual in Bryan Stevenson. Bryan is masterfully portrayed by Jordan in what is arguably the best performance of his career. Between his eloquent monologues both in and out of the courtroom to his passionate exchanges with Foxx’s McMillan, he nails this role top to bottom. He’s an exceptionally talented actor (who I still believe to be underrated) and I’m hoping his work here garners more of the recognition he deserves. Jamie Foxx does a great job as Walter McMillan. Granted, his screen time is somewhat limited, as Just Mercy really follows Stevenson more than anyone else. Still, he delivers a powerful supporting performance and has undeniable chemistry with Jordan. The pair is in sync in all of their joint scenes. Furthermore, their one-on-one interactions genuinely tug at the heart strings. Tim Blake Nelson is superb as prisoner Ralph Myers. This is some of his best work, as he expertly depicts a complex and troubled real-life individual. Brie Larson is the other highlight, giving a steadying, yet strong, performance. She also works well across from MBJ, further exemplifying a cast ripe with harmony.
The pacing moves well, which is a relief given its hefty 136-minute runtime. There is a lot of ground to cover and Cretton does a fantastic job of getting to everything in a timely, effective manner. Nothing is rushed or overly drawn out. The more emotional scenes are given the proper time to marinate, but no shot is held too long. While the film is very moving, it’s also very informative and the balance achieved between the two is noteworthy. Just Mercy is a triumph. It urges the viewer to evaluate their stance on significant topics within our justice system, while highlighting a prominent real-life figure showcased by a masterful Michael B. Jordan. I highly recommend everyone check this one out in theaters.