Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Based on the Book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
More Info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4916630/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
IMDB’s Movie Summary: World-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson works to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner.
My Thoughts: Just Mercy is a 2019 biopic about the incredible story of Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate, who worked in Alabama to pardon wrongly convicted death row prisoners, and went on to start the Equal Justice Initiative. The guy’s absolutely incredible. Like, Just Mercy tells the story of Stevenson’s efforts to get one man—Walter McMillan—off of death row, but that truly is the tip of an enormous and incredibly impressive iceberg. In fact, I’m just going to link the Wikipedia article about him right here, and encourage you all to go give it a look, because….holy shit is this man accomplished. Click here to read more about him.
Now normally in these reviews, I try to be a little bit coy about what my opinions are, but I’m not going to do this here. I think Just Mercy is a masterpiece, and I am going to tell you why. This will not be a review with two sections, one for positive and one for negatives, this will be a long rant about why I think Just Mercy is a fantastic drama and why you should all watch it. So with that out of the way, let’s get started.
Now the first thing I’d like to discuss is the acting, because oh my god is it amazing. This film’s three main stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson, and all three of them give the best performances I have ever seen them give. Now to be fair, I have not watched every movie that these extremely talented and prolific actors have been in, but I’ve seen a fair few, and this blows all of them out of the water.
Now, Brie Larson is probably the least interesting to talk about here. She’s just very good in this film, as I’ve come to expect from her. There’s one outstanding scene near the beginning in which she does a fantastic job emoting panic and terror, but other than that, she’s just very good. I mean, I say “just”, but….you understand what I’m saying. There’s less to unpack with her performance than there is with the other two. She plays Eva Ansley, and does a very good job with the role, and that’s all there really is to say about her.
Michael B. Jordan is the film’s lead. He plays Bryan Stevenson, and he knocks it out of the damn park. He spends so much time in this film acting with just his facial expressions. One look at him can speak volumes about what his character is thinking and feeling, and I think that that is one of the greatest things an actor can do. He has to emote so many different emotions throughout the duration of Just Mercy, and he shifts between them flawlessly. I honestly cannot think of a single moment throughout the film when I did not fully and completely buy his performance.
However, this movie’s absolute standout performance comes from Jamie Foxx as Walter “Johnny D” McMillian. It is hard to put into words how impactful I found his performance to be. Just….think about everything I said about Michael B. Jordan, and then think about the fact that I consider Jamie Foxx to do an even better job than he does. He’s that good. I’ll just leave it at that, to be honest. Watch the movie if you want to learn more.
I also have to give a brief mention to Rob Morgan, who gives another stand out performance. He’s not nearly as present in the film as Foxx and Jordan are, but he makes every little moment count. There is a scene near the middle of the movie, which is about four minutes of him just acting with his face, and that, combined with literally everything else about the scene (the framing, the score, the writing, the content) brought me to tears. It is hard to put into words how much that scene impacted me, but trust me when I say that it takes a lot to make me cry during a movie, and it just….wow, that scene was amazing.
In fact, while we’re here, I need to give a quick shout out to the score, because not only is it incredible, but the way that the score is used is absolutely amazing. Not only during that one scene, but also throughout the movie. I tip my hat to Joel P. West, who fucking outdid himself for this film.
Next up, I think it’s important to talk about the writing. This film’s script is very good. The dialogue is tightly written and very hard-hitting, and the story, while a tad generic by film standards, is absolutely redeemed by the fact that it’s based on an actual, true story. A lot of critics apparently docked points from Just Mercy for having the structure of a slightly generic, if superbly written, legal drama, but I just don’t see that as being a negative. It’s a true story. Like, what, should they have changed it to make it less “predictable”, or whatever? Fuck no! So yeah, that critique doesn’t really work for me, and I never found myself disliking the story.
Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that the cinematography in this movie is shockingly good. There’s a lot of really interesting establishing shots and transitions, and there’s one segment that uses a television in a really interesting way, and also that scene that made me cry? Top notch cinematography there as well.
So, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Just Mercy is an emotionally resonant legal drama based on the true story about an incredibly inspiring person. It has top notch writing, even better acting, and surprisingly memorable cinematography for a biopic legal drama. I found myself absolutely hooked from the moment I started watching, to the moment the credits began to roll, and I think I would be doing this film an absolute disservice if I gave it anything less than a 10/10.
Written on 08/17/2021