Just Mercy

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Just Mercy stays fairly true to its source material save for a few notable changes that shift the path the film ends up taking. Just Mercy is a film that fails to resonate past a powerful, thought-provoking message that will stay with you long after the credits roll. The story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx)  is an uplifting one about justice triumphing over bigotry and evil, but this adaptation felt somewhat contrived to me. 

Two clients of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) and Anthony Ray Hinton (O’Shea Jackson Jr.)  become Walter’s cellmates. Where the book went Other than these two characters, the stories of Bryan’s clients besides Walter are nowhere to be found and barely even mentioned. I thought these separate stories were masterfully woven into the novel, but the absence of them crystallizes this film’s priorities. Just Mercy is way more interested in adapting Walter’s story than the full novel. That’s not a bad thing, I just sorely missed what I consider some of the most affecting moments from the book.

Michael B. Jordan is magnetic and has a presence that makes the courtroom drama enthralling. I’m impressed with Jordan’s performance in almost everything he’s in and Just Mercy is no different. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson with gravitas and conviction. Jamie Foxx gives his best performance since his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray. He finds humanity and deep vulnerability in McMillian. His performance is incredibly moving. Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers has a strange charm to his performance. He takes this unlikeable character and zeroes in on the qualities that make him sympathetic. Eva Ansley gets a larger role here and it was a nice surprise to see her portrayed by Brie Larson. Rob Morgan is heartbreaking as Herbert Richardson. This is a man whose experiences at war broke him emotionally and Morgan conveys that well. His performance is quiet, but extremely memorable.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s direction is perfectly competent. It’s nothing to write home about but doesn’t detract from the quality of the overall film. This is a film that will hit home with lots of people, especially those not acquainted with Stevenson and his work. It’s hard not to get swept in Walter’s tale. Just Mercy is a call to action against the death penalty and for a fair, unbiased justice system is a film that I think everybody needs to see.


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