Friday, January 10, 2020

Just Mercy

Based on true experiences of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a straightforward biopic that is more about one lawyer's struggle against a broken legal system than the legal maneuverings of a crafty lawyer. After a brief introduction to the character, the film begins in earnest with Stevenson taking his Harvard education to Alabama to defend those on death row who never received a fair trial.

The film primarily deals with Stevenson's attempts to earn a new trial for Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) who was convicted of murder on the testimony of one unreliable witness (Tim Blake Nelson) and no physical evidence thanks in large part to the pressure and intimidation of a local sheriff (Michael Harding) whose motives the film never really examines.

Just Mercy is a solid film filled with actors who have given more memorable roles in other movies. Along with Foxx and Jordan we also get Brie Larson as another member of the defense team who helped Stevenson set-up the Equal Justice Initiative offices in Montgomery, Alabama.

The film is at its strongest when the weight of the community falls on Stevenson's shoulders including a couple of emotionally-powerful scenes that one would think who have offered more than enough ammunition for the lawyer to go after the local police (whose deplorable actions, both on-screen and off, while acknowledged, are never dealt with). In a film about getting justice for all concerned, and holding people accountable for their actions, leaving these plot threads dangling is a bit puzzling. The script also touches on two other clients of Stevenson, though to a much lesser degree while making a valid argument against the death penalty when so many sent there are later found to be innocent (some years after their final judgement was enforced).

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