Based on a true story, Just Mercy follows young, newly-qualified attorney, Bryan Stevenson, who takes a case in Alabama defending Walter McMillian; a man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.
Portrayed by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, McMillian is a hardworking family man who, in 1987, finds himself the victim of a racist police force looking to solve the murder of an 18-year-old white girl at any cost. History has taught us that it shouldn’t be shocking to see the clear and almost laughable lack of evidence unable to stop McMillian being imprisoned on death row so swiftly, but it’s no less painful to see both McMillian, his family, and his close-knit community devastated by his sentencing.
Jamie Foxx’s measured performance deftly reflects a man aware of the world in which he exists and resigned to his fate, resolved not to let the fiery young attorney get his hopes up that there can be any other outcome than that which has happened for years to men like him.
Michael B. Jordan has long proven himself in roles such as everyone’s favourite hotep extremist, Eric Killmonger in Black Panther, all the way back to his tragic turn as street kid Wallace in The Wire. Jordan as Stevenson is a man optimistic without being uninformed, who refuses to be knocked down in his quest for justice as it becomes increasingly clear that police obtained a false eyewitness testimony from a prison snitch (Tim Nelson of Watchmen). You can see this is clearly a project Jordan cares about (he also produced Just Mercy) as he doggedly pursues justice and in the process becomes aware of the injustices also suffered by McMillian’s cellmates played by Rob Morgan and O’Shea Jackson Jnr.
It’s at this stage that I cannot stress enough how astonishingly affecting Rob Morgan’s performance is, which is certainly good enough to match the rightly heralded performance of Jamie Foxx. Captain Marvel’s, Brie Larsen plays an auxiliary role assisting Stevenson in McMillian’s defence, which is serviceable, but in some places only manages to further push out the run-time of the film. You’ll also catch Rafe Spall giving a solid attempt at a Southern accent as the DA determined to see McMillian convicted.
Just Mercy may feel slow at points, and the awards buzz over Jordan and Foxx’s performances died before it ever really got going, but this film manages to be a very emotional, deeply thought-provoking and inspiring experience. For some readers like myself, 1987 was not long before we were born, and it beggars belief that Walter McMillian’s experience was still one of thousands.
Just Mercy is out now.
Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton; Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr. 12A cert, 137 mins