Just Mercy Movie Review: The provision of equality is legally objective that cannot be falsified in a democratic republic standing upon the ideas of ‘one people’ and liberty for all. But social equality is not enslaved by legal definitions. It is granted through recognition in the hearts and minds which are unadulterated by prejudiced conventions. But do progressive ideas dissolve bigotry, hate, and the sense of supremacy with ease?
The demography of the United States of America provides a curious case. It took 89 years for slavery to be abolished after the achievement of independence and sovereignty. And it took another 99 years for all citizens to receive equal civil rights. But segregation never ceased to exist and an entire race continued/es to remain a victim of social, political, economic, and judicial discrimination & violence.
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A quick walk through history is important to feel this film emotionally. Because Just Mercy doesn’t offer you a cinematic orgasm with its technical finesse or beautiful colors or larger than life elements. It is a small but important film on the lives of Bryan Stevenson, Walter McMillan, and Bryan’s Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson is a lawyer-activist who has devoted his life to the legal rights of those who cannot afford legal counsel and are on death row through wrongful convictions. Quite shockingly, statistical figures expose convictions to be heavily erroneous and unsurprisingly, biased against the African-American population. I will not reveal the rest of the facts as they’re gut-wrenching to read and vital to the experience of the film.
Based on the personal memoir of Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy exposes the biases prevalent in the Criminal Justice System of the USA. Following a linear timeline with occasionally required jumpcuts, the film unfolds different stories before reaching the plight of Walter McMillan. In a routine manner, it sheds light upon different instances of harassment blacks face every day at the hands of whites in the southern states of the USA. Bryan, played by Michael B. Jordan, is an ambitious and motivated lawyer who wants to help without being careful about his own life. He is supported by her colleague and employee in the initiative Eva Ansley played by Brie Larson.
There’s not much to talk about a film such as Just Mercy. The liberties taken to dramatize the events are well within the rights of the filmmakers while the accuracy of the events cannot be doubted beyond a threshold as much of it is available in the public domain, either in statistics or in personal experiences. The courtroom trials do not claim a significant portion of the screen time, contrary to one’s expectations, as the film’s focus is equally distributed among the lives of convicts on death row, the fear and challenges of those working for their release, and the episodes of courtroom trials. Hence, the trials incline to sentiments more than objectivity.
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Micheal B. Jordan struggles to express pellucid horror and often merges it with perplexity. However, there is a sincerity in his act which makes him a pleasure to watch on screen more than a pain. Jamie Foxx is confident. His eyes spark off innocence, anger, and overwhelming happiness, as and when required. Unfortunately, Brie doesn’t have much to do in the film. That being said, I will remember Just Mercy for two brilliant supporting acts given by Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers and Rob Morgan as Herbert Richardson. It is unfortunate that both will go unnoticed and most probably, ignored.
Destin Daniel Cretton and Brett Pawlak do not exploit the room that was available to create ambiguity and horror through atmospherics. Nat Sanders’s edit works well. I appreciate Destin for not submitting to theatrics. I won’t opine that is the best film of the year that went or a great film per se. While it appears to share the same blood as 2019 miniseries When They See Us, the warm tone and grounded narrative doesn’t explore the psychology of the characters in great detail and only touches the same at its surface. But Just Mercy can be termed an important film that is worthy of our attention.