Review by Dan Skip Allen
Courtroom dramas are one of the better genres of movies. Each year a few courtroom dramas come out, but 2019 has had its fair share of them. These films tend to pull on the heartstrings of those watching them. Just Mercy is no different. However, it does have a little more going for it than most films of the genre: a personal story that comes to the forefront.
Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) is a young upstart lawyer who just finished law school. He's looking to make a difference, so he moves to Alabama to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he tries to get death row inmates off of death row. One of them is Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a man who was convicted of murdering an 18 year old girl. He gets an eye opening experience once he gets to work.
Like most courtroom dramas, Just Mercy has its fair share of shady characters and malfeasance. These characters help move the story along but not fast enough. This film has a slow period in the middle. It takes a little longer to get to the crux of the story, that of Walter McMillan. The film tries to deal with both his story and Stevenson's story equally, but one doesn't work without the other. That said, Destin Daniel Cretton, the director and co-writer, balances them perfectly once the film finally focuses itself.
Cretton is known for Short Term 12 (his breakout film) and The Glass Castle. Both films he worked with Brie Larson, and they work together once again in Just Mercy. Ava Ansley (Brie Larson) is a law clerk working for Stevenson. Cretton surrounds Stevenson with good supporting characters that help round out the film, including Ansley and her family. They help define the world and time this film takes place in.
As far as Michael B. Jordan, this isn't the best film for his talents. I think the more action films are better suited for his abilities. He is just not that believable as this lawyer who is fighting for death row inmates. He really is a good actor but maybe this wasn't the best role for him. Jamie Foxx is another story. He seemed right at home portraying this man knocked down by society. He is very believable as a man beaten down by the system. That's why Foxx is garnering awards consideration for his performance.
Just Mercy hinges on the performances. Most of them work in the film. As an overall film experience its a satisfactory film. The emotional scenes work very well. Cretton has done a good job transitioning from his other films but also kept his style and dramatic flair.
Just Mercy is now playing in theaters.