Just Mercy – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Stars: Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx
Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is of African American descent and qualified from Harvard Law School in the nineteen eighties. He chose to make his career as a lawyer in the South, and in particular in Alabama. His main focus was for those living on death row, who were overwhelmingly black. He set up the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and one of his earliest cases was that of Walter McMillian. McMillian had been convicted of the murder and rape of a teenage white girl. He had always protested his innocence. It would appear that he had not been fortunate at his trial with the quality of his legal defence team.
Stevenson visits McMillian (Jamie Foxx) in jail. He also visits his family and his journey there highlights the disparity between where the white folks live and those areas where the black folks live. It is stark. At an early stage McMillian states that in Alabama people like him are guilty from the moment that they are born but he is clear that he was not in any way responsible for the crime for which he has been convicted. Stevenson starts the painstaking task of sifting through the papers that were concerned with the trial. Stevenson gets deeply involved in the details which as a result produces a document which had been suppressed by the prosecution. It provides a chink of light. There are then a series of courtroom battles with the State represented by one Tommy Champon (Rafe Spall) who is cut from the white establishment cloth. Stevenson is assisted by one Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) whose part is small so the skills of Larson have little opportunity of being seen. There is a superb performance by Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers, a convicted criminal, who is a critical witness but who did not give evidence at the trial.
The film explains the debilitating effect that McMillian’s conviction has on his family and circle of friends and the camaraderie that builds up between him and a couple of other inmates on death row. It does not shy away from the reality of a death sentence.
This is a story of a man Bryan Stevenson who has made his life to fight injustice based on race and it does so by concentrating on one case. It is not the first such film but it is a story that more than ever needs to be told. It is meticulous and a fine piece of story telling.