Stories of injustice and prejudice of the legal system are not anything new, but there’s always something cruel that hasn’t been heard. While some might shrug off these stories as some kind of political agenda being pushed, the unfortunate truth is that these aren’t stories at all. Ignorance is still alive and some need a reminder that it hasn’t gone anywhere. JUST MERCY tells one of those true stories but, unfortunately, is not completely successful at doing so.
It’s 1989 and law graduate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) travels to Alabama to fight for those who can’t afford legal representation. He’s a man who fights for what he thinks is right and we are made sure to be aware of what a great man he is. He’s welcomed with hesitation by white residents who question his title and even go so far as making him partake in a strip search when visiting clients. He ends up meeting Johnny D (Jamie Foxx), a black man accused of murdering a white woman a couple of years before. There’s no evidence of proving this, but it’s easy for the police to use him as a scapegoat and no one wants to step forward to prove his innocence. Stevenson is a good man though and takes it upon himself to find the truth even if he has all the odds against him.
Destin Daniel Cretton wrote and directed JUST MERCY and uses extreme close-ups that must have been overwhelming on the big screen. Like much of the material in the film, these shots are shoved down our throats to grasp at the amazing actors featured in the film. The thing, these really are talented actors and their performances should have been left to speak for themselves.
It feels odd saying JUST MERCY is not a great movie due to its material, but the execution really misses the mark. Every scene that’s designed to hit an emotional note feels strategic. It is also hard to feel empathy for a character who can’t see what’s coming even though the audience can see it coming from a mile away. Jordan plays it cool but his talent is underutilized here. He has a producer credit on JUST MERCY but nothing about it feels personable. It’s aiming for awards season and is clean enough to not scare off white audiences.
Director Cretton made the movie Short Term 12 which felt raw and, at times, unscripted. Those characters felt real and flawed, which helped us to connect. Perfection doesn’t exist and that movie was not afraid to veer its ugly head. JUST MERCY reteams him with Oscar winner Brie Larson who is always great, but completely useless in this movie. It’s not her fault, but she feels thrown in to add some star power and get some of that Marvel fanbase to purchase some tickets. Foxx is playing someone who is going through a traumatic experience but he’s just so calm and unworried that we are not really concerned either. I can hear the behind the scenes crew telling him to not play the angry black guy, even though he has every right to be angry, so he doesn’t scare away white people.
This is not at all a terrible movie, but it had the opportunity to be something unforgettable and a movie to get the conversation going. However, there’s not much to remember when you wake up the next morning because the narrative fails to make you move after its two hours are up. Despite being a true story, JUST MERCY feels safe, therefore stripping away just how intense this really played out. JUST MERCY is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.