After graduating from Harvard with a Law Degree, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) knows that he wants to help people that otherwise can’t afford it. He decides to move from Delaware to Alabama and assist inmates on death row.
Young and full of energy he meets with several inmates and start helping them in the legal process. When he sits down with a reluctant Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) he begins to understand maybe this process is not going to be as easy as he thought. Walter doubts anyone can help him and tells Bryan to leave. Bryan looks into his case and is instantly convinced of Walter’s innocence. The issue is that Walter is black and during the 1980s in this part of Alabama this was about all it took to secure a conviction. The only prosecution eye witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), was white and despite the being a convicted felon with an outrageous story that was all it took for a jury to convict. Now young African American lawyer is going to have to go to battle for justice for Walter against bigoted system that is run but men intent on seeing him executed.
The film is based on the true story of Stevenson. It delves into the beginning of his long career of fighting for those who are on death row. It spends a lot of time on the McMillian case but also explores some other cases. It show not only the struggles of the death row inmates but also of the persecution and barriers Stevenson had to go through himself. Both because of what he was trying to do but also because of the color of his skin, even in the 1980s and 90s. It shows how he started the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) with the help Eve Ansley, played by Brie Larson in the film. The EJI is a non-profit that provides legal help for people who might otherwise not be able to get it, as well as those on death row.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) this is a powerful film that explores the real life injustice taking place in the McMillian trial. The story is original and captivating. The cast was good with a few memorable performances but others that were forgettable. I appreciated Michael B. Jordan’s performance especially. Foxx, Larson and Rob Morgan (Herbert Richardson in the film) also were good. The story had several points were it will build to a point and then settle in but in the end there was no real climatic resolution. It was pretty obvious how it was going to end, not that it didn’t satisfy as an overall outcome.
I liked this story a lot. I thought that it was something that I knew some of, or had heard bits of, but had never really known details about. I thought the subject was really interesting and would be a good watch for those interested in true crime, law or criminal proceedings, underdog stories or things of that nature. I thought at 2 hours and 16 minutes it seemed just a little too long for me personally but was not bad. I would definitely watch this again but maybe not spend the theater ticket price.
3.5 out of 5
Second review by Angele Colageo
November 1986: an eighteen-year-old, white woman was murdered in Montgomery, Alabama. Walter “Johnny D” McMillian (Jaime Foxx, with an excellent performance) was arrested for the crime in June of 1987. He was placed in Alabama’s Death Row and held for months before having a trial. Walter was then found guilty, convicted, and sentenced to be executed. Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan, plays the character brilliantly) McMillian’s lawyer. The film tells of Stevenson’s work, with a focus on Johnny D’s case. He had to prove blatant miscarriage of justice by the Alabama State law and judicial system.
Stevenson, a lawyer who worked for the Southern Center for Human Rights (fresh out of Harvard Law, idealistic and a bit naïve}, had expected the entire legal system of Montgomery and the State of Alabama to play by the letter of the law. In Johnny D’s case, the Sherriff and prosecution circumvented due process, intent that they had found their murderer.
The funding for the Southern Center for Human Rights was stopped by Congress. Stevenson co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in order to continue to serve his clients. Stevenson did not do the work alone. He had the help of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson, who has the uncanny ability to choose roles with characters that she inhabits effortlessly) who co-founded the EJI. Both worked tirelessly to exonerate McMillian.
This is a tale of hope, and the fight against injustice. It shows the dirty underbelly of racism that we would think had ended in the years prior to this case. David, against the Goliath of establishment that existed for so long that it had forgotten it’s basic tenets. Stevenson would be the clarion call to remind us all that our system is set up to be just. The letter of the law expresses that we must believe that the person on trial is innocent and prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Just Mercy is an inspiring film with exceptional actors. It certainly warrants its nominations. If you like dramas about social justice and hope, this is a great movie. If you are a fan of the actors, you will not be disappointed.
4.5 out of 5 stars