Based on a true story – the titles proclaim at the start of the legal drama JUST MERCY. The film opens on Christmas Day so that it qualifies for the 2019 Academy Awards.
It tells the true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B.Jordan) appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Bryan Stevenson.
As expected, courtroom dramas about civil rights come with a whole lot of manipulation. Manipulation is recognizably present in JUST MERCY, though director Cretton’s credit, the manipulation is done with some restraint.
The audience needs to feel the horror of death by the electric chair in order to appreciate the trauma prisoners on death row are experiencing. Director Cretton denotes almost 15 minutes in this manipulative process. Bryan travels all the way down to witness the election by electrocution of one of his clients, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan). The camera follows the prisoner as he is walked through the corridors, together with the soundtrack of the church hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.” The other prisoners in the jail clank their tin cups during the ‘ceremony’. The camera focuses on several witnesses like one of the guards, Bryan, and others. At least the audience is spared from the gory details of the execution. The audience only sees the reactions of the witnesses. But that is enough manipulation for 15 minutes. The other noticeable manipulative segment is the one whee the D.A. watches the proceedings of the case on TV with his family. The D.A. insists he is right, despite the McMillian’s innocence. The camera pans to the D.A.’s wife to show her disapproval of her husband’s actions and behaviour.
Courtroom dramas almost always require elaborate speeches and JUST MERCY delivers the speech during the McMillian’s crucial trial delivered by lawyer Bryan Stevenson. The speech will undoubtedly make many a critic shrug “humbug” under their breaths while audiences will likely lap it up. The message of justice and hope appears to come contradictory to the message i another Christmas film 1017 were hope is declared as a dangerous thing. In JUST MERCY, hope is declared as important as justice. Both films are correct and the concept of hope needs be taken in an appropriate context.
Of all the performances combined, that of Tim Blake Nelson as the convicted felon, Ralph Myers whose false testimony resulted in McMillain’s arrest and death sentence deserves mention. The photograph of Myers looks exactly as that portrayed by Nelson complete with the mouth twitches. Nelson gets my one or this year’s Best Supporting Actor.
JUST MERCY over dramatizes a real true life event in the typical Hollywood style. Those looking for a feel-good history lesson might enjoy this, but this film is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The film’s most amusing segment is the townfolk insisting that the visiting lawyer, Bryan visit the Mockingbird museum when he is in the town, right where the proud citizen believe that are innocent of their bigoted ways.
Opens Christmas Day!