How does one combat the wrongs of the system when you yourself are a victim of said system? It’s a question that arises often in Just Mercy, a brilliant legal drama that details the struggles of one lawyer’s attempt to right the wrongs of the system in order to help inmates on Death Row get the best legal assistance. This is a fine acted, well-written and expertly directed film that showcases themes of racism, wrongdoings in law enforcement and the fight to fix the problem.
People who live in Northern States haven’t got a clue what life is like in the South. I should know because I’ve lived in the South for over twenty years and, even though the Civil Rights were enacted and laws were changed, I still see the old South in its glory. From the racists that live here to the close mindedness of people today, remnants of that past are still present . Things do change and people do evolve, but some things never change. Just Mercy takes place in Alabama where in 1986, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) was arrested for the murder of Ronda Morrison, a young eighteen year old who was shot and strangled to death. Her murder shocked the small town and people wanted her murderer caught.
The movie takes places in Monroeville, Alabama, the same town that To Kill a Mockingbird was set in. McMillian is arrested, tried in court and convicted by a jury of murder. In a case shocker, the trial judge overturns the jury sentence of life in prison and sends McMillian to Death Row. Shocked by this incredible life change, McMillian seems to have lost all hope in never being a free man again. Lawyer after lawyer has come and gone and things only seems to get worse.
Enter Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan): a recent Harvard graduate who moves to Alabama so he can set up an organization that represents clients who can’t afford legal council or were given ineffective council during their trial. These men are sitting on Death Row and their days are numbered. This isn’t the same as being in prison for life when time is only measured by how long you live. With Death Row, these men are sent letters that inform them of the exact day when they’ll be put to death.
Stevenson is a young lawyer who wants to make a difference and, if possible, change the world. He even tells a story later in the film which explains his tenacity for taking on these cases. People in Alabama aren’t too thrilled to hear of a lawyer coming down and asking questions about the testimony of key witnesses that guaranteed McMillian’s fate. Threats are made and intimidation is what the police in this town are good at, but Stevenson and even his partner Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) will not be kept quiet.
Even though this story happened in 1986-1987, you’d think that things would be different and not like how they were in the ’50s and ’60s. Nothing can be further from the truth and, with the lawyer being a black man defending a black man convicted of killing a white woman, it stirs up some nasty feelings and anger in the community. As McMillian sees it, this is how it’s always been in the South and nothing will change. It’s only Stevenson and his partner who refuse to give up. Through their efforts to seek a new trial for McMillian and the problems that arise from it, we the audience feel this immense frustration because we know that this case is not an easy one to win. Especially when Stevenson faces an unnecessary obstacle in Monroeville County District Attorney Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall).
I won’t give much details on what happens during the course of Just Mercy, but it should be noted that this is a powerful film. It proudly shows the racism, the bigotry and the feelings of hopelessness that is felt by the people we meet in this film. This isn’t a film interested in learning who the real killer was, but instead taking us on a journey where the courts, police and even the people of Monroeville are all against this one man fighting so hard for his shot at freedom. His family remains by his side even after serving years in prison and they believe in his innocence. Hell, they even have the evidence to prove this, something completely ignored by law enforcement officers and court officials. Like I said, I don’t want to delve into the plot of this film- you just need to experience it for yourself.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Just Mercy packs quite a punch. From the deft writing, the excellent direction from Deston Daniel Cretton (who co-wrote the film), and a perfect cast who all give great performances, there isn’t a single scene of this movie that feels boring or overwrought. This movie flows so smoothly like reading one of those John Grisham novels. It’s informative, moving and excellent entertainment for anyone looking for a different kind of movie to watch. If you don’t walk out of theater is good feeling in your heart and a tear in your eye, then you need to reassess the movies you enjoy watching.
Don’t miss Just Mercy. It’s a film whose message remains important today and whose real-life counterpart is still trying such cases to this day to get justice for those wronged. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer that everyone wishes they could have in their corner.