Based on a true story, Just Mercy is an honest examination of America’s broken criminal-justice system. Jamie Foxx plays Walter McMillian, a business owner from Monroeville, Alabama who was falsely convicted of murdering an 18-year-old white girl and sentenced to death. After six years on death row, McMillian was released from prison with the help of Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law graduate portrayed by Michael B. Jordan.
In a meticulous, clever manner, the film dissects interracial power dynamics. Jordan and Foxx give remarkable, heartrending performances and complement each other well on screen. Viewers are able to see the emotional toll of racism on Black men in particular, whether one is a Harvard graduate or a death-row inmate.
Working from Stevenson’s memoir, director Destin Daniel Cretton doesn’t play it safe. The film constantly asks us to consider important questions: Who has the right to decide who dies? How do we protect, defend, and offer fair counsel to those with limited resources?
Just Mercy is committed to humanizing death-row inmates by showing us the sense of community in the prison and the close friendships McMillan makes there. With each new inmate we meet, new layers complicate the issue of capital punishment. The film’s humaneness even subtly extends to the prison guards when one of them is visibly affected by his duties. But these moments are brilliantly juxtaposed with a detailed, gut-wrenching execution that is bound to bring up myriad emotions.
An inspirational but challenging film, Just Mercy celebrates McMillan’s release from prison but also mourns the damaging effect that the false conviction and imprisonment had on his life. Likewise, we celebrate the achievements of Stephenson, who has protected about 125 innocent men from being sentenced to death, but also mourn for the innocent death-row inmates who still need someone like him.
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