In case you forgot, Jamie Foxx is an amazing actor, and has an Oscar to remind you. In case you haven’t noticed, Michael B. Jordan is an amazing actor with range for days. Together they make for a powerful force in Just Mercy.
Truth Will Set You Free
This is the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) who dominated Harvard Law School and eschewed powerful law firms to move to the Deep South and fight to free wrongly convicted inmates on Alabama’s death row. The movie is set in the late 80s and early 90s, a time and place where truth and justice often didn’t go hand in hand.
Foxx plays Walter McMillian, an innocent man who spent five years on death row despite the fact that the case against him had more holes than a fine baby swiss cheese. Stevenson takes up his case and people in the town where the murder happen try to put every obstacle in his way: canceling leases, menacing and stalking, witness intimidation. As all this goes down, Michael B’s performance conveys the frustration, injustice and prejudice that used to (still does) permeate the justice system, especially in the Deep South.
The truth was obvious for anyone to see. The key was getting people to open their eyes and, more importantly, their minds.
The real villain in Just Mercy is racism. It invades every aspect of the film. And that’s the point. From prosecutors who turn a blind eye to perjury, to a jail guard who makes Bryan, an attorney, go through a strip search, to bailiffs that keep black people from getting seats at a public court hearing, everything is motivated by race. We all know this happened back in the 1960s and before. Just Mercy is set in the relatively recent past of the 1990s.
Racism is the main character in the film, an almost emperor-like figure. Everyone else are supporting characters, either enabling the perversion of justice or fighting it.
But, the best moments of the movie aren’t when Jordan is confronting corruption. It’s when he’s on screen with Jamie. Given that Foxx spends most of his scenes in prison, their time together is limited, but they make the most of it. Idealism versus frustration turns into shared pain and common cause. Foxx is an Oscar winner, Michael is a future Oscar winner. Their scenes are worth the price of admission.
Big Drama for the Big Screen
Normally for a movie that’s as dialogue driven as Just Mercy, I would say there’s no need to rush to see it in theaters. But this film is an exception. Watching it at home lets you pause for a bathroom break or come back later. Or even fast forward through some tough to watch scenes.
Seeing it a theater forces you to stay in the moment. It holds you prisoner just like Walter. There is no escape. There is no pause. You must witness the injustice without relief. That is one of, if not the most important aspects of the movie. There is an execution scene. It is painful and heartbreaking and methodical.
This movie was hard to make. It’s not just about getting two good actors for two good roles. It’s about getting two good actors who can play off each other. That’s not an easy combination to cast. Without Michael and Jamie, this could have been a transparent morality play that stops resonating before you get out of the theater.
But these men hold Just Mercy and bring it home like few pairs could.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Well I definitely needed a drink after this. It takes a lot out of you. So I’m going with a Stoli Orange and Diet Red Bull. Because Red Bull gives you Wiiings, and innocent people go from jail birds to free as a bird.