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Film Review #1 Just Mercy (2019)

Updated: Jan 16

Just Mercy (2019)

By Sumana Syed


Based on the true story of a young lawyer fighting to free a wrongfully convicted Alabama man on death row, “Just Mercy” calls out the injustices and racial biases in the justice system. 


The story follows ambitious lawyer Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan), a recent graduate from Harvard Law School who comes down to Alabama to provide legal services for inmates on death row through an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative.  According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Alabama is one of the states in America that don't provide legal assistance to incarcerated people. He takes on two death row inmate cases: Walter McMillan’s (Jamie Foxx), an inmate locked up for (allegedly) murdering 18-year-old Ronda Morrison in Monroeville at a dry cleaner; and Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a Vietnam veteran with major post traumatic stress disorder, who was convicted for placing a bomb under a house and killing a young girl. As Bryan reads through his case and sees that none of the testimonies nor the evidence point to Walter being the culprit, prompting him to convince Walter to let him take on the case and get him a re-trial. At first, Walter is less than hopeful, but when Bryan presents him with a testimony that can prove he’s innocent, he gives Bryan his blessing.


This film is everything but subtle in delivering its message about the corruption of a racially biased justice system in a country, where racism and “justified” pragmatism overtake civil rights and humanity. The strongest points of this film were the powerhouse performances by Jordan and Foxx, as well as the supporting cast consisting of Academy Award winner Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, and others. Director Destin Daniel Cretton also deserves some praise, seeing as how his past films were not as straightforward and upfront as this one. And although some plot points were a bit predictable due to the subject matter, Cretton still keeps things interesting.


One of the points of this film I found interesting was how the film’s narrative was told through three points of view: Bryan’s, Walter’s, and Herbert’s. Through Bryan’s, we watch the clear discrimination he faces by the (white) Alabama cops and also how they underestimate his career as a lawyer because of his race; Walter shows us the cruelty of the justice system as they would do whatever they can to find the culprit—even if said “culprit” is an innocent man; Herbert shows us there are legitimate reasons as to why people commit the crimes they do and that prison isn’t the place they should be sent to.


All in all, “Just Mercy” is a film that executed a gripping narrative that is sure to pull at the audience’s heartstrings, both with emotions and resolve.


Just Mercy hits select theaters December 25th, then everywhere on January 10th, 2020.


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