Highlighting Death Row Injustice
It’s encouraging to watch Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan bring their star power to an important film like Just Mercy. Foxx portrays Walter McMillan, an innocent black man sent to death row for the murder of a white woman in Alabama in 1987. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, a young black lawyer from Delaware who becomes involved in the McMillan case. The movie boasts a couple of suspenseful courtroom scenes, but most of the drama relates to hard work and a dedication to making sure equal justice prevails no matter race or class.
Although I’ve been impressed with both of the film’s key actors before, they surpassed my expectations in this compelling offering based on true events. In many scenes, Oscar-winner Foxx (Ray) projects a heartbreaking hopelessness that makes us care deeply about what happens to him. And Jordan’s (Black Panther) splendid performance convinces us that Stevenson can maintain considerable persistence under pressure, especially in one scene where he must consent to an unnecessary strip search before even being permitted to talk with his client.
Oscar-winner Brie Larson (The Room), Rob Morgan (Mudbound) and Tim Blake Nelson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) also deserve praise for their contributions to Just Mercy. Losing almost every physical resemblance to Captain Marvel, Larson stands out as a dedicated Equal Justice Initiative worker. And Morgan earns our compassion in the role of Herb, an elderly death row resident who should be in a mental hospital instead of a prison. It’s difficult not to get teary eyed just thinking about him. The always excellent Nelson is hardly recognizable as the key witness who gave false testimony that led to McMillan's murder conviction.
Directed and co-written (with Andrew Lanham) by Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle), this motion picture is a screen adaptation of Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, so sometimes the story seems one-sided. However, the facts speak for themselves.
On death row, an innocent man
has lost faith that anyone can
help him prove he is not guilty.
All he wants now is just mercy.
From out of town, a lawyer new
studies his case and finds a clue.
Still, prejudice stands in the way.
Racial attitudes hard to sway.
Foxx and Jordan become those two.
Splendid acting these men both do.
“Just Mercy” tells a true story.
It matters, folks. Be sure to see.
WARNING: This film contains a gruesome execution sequence. While watching it, ask yourself if the man going to his death deserved the electric chair. But it’s important to note that by 2016, Stevenson had saved 125 men from the death penalty.
The opposite of poverty is not wealth. I actually think the opposite of poverty is justice. --- Bryan Stevenson
The Bureau of Justice reports that one in three black male babies born this century will be sent to jail or prison. That is an astonishing statistic. And it ought to be terrorizing not just to people of color, but to all of us. --- Bryan Stevenson
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)