Film Review: JUST MERCY (USA 2019) ***

Just Mercy Poster
Trailer

Just Mercy shadows world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he recounts his experiences and details the case of a condemned death row prisoner whom he fought to free.

Writers:

Destin Daniel Cretton (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVQbeG5yW78

Film Review: CREED II (USA 2018)

Creed II Poster
Trailer

Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, light heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago.

Director:

Steven Caple Jr.

Writers:

Cheo Hodari Coker (story by), Ryan Coogler (characters) | 4 more credits »

How time flies.  Before one knows it, CREED II, the sequel to 2015 CREED is now the 8th instalment of the ROCKIE franchise.  All of the films feature Sylvester Stallone who also co-wrote CREED II.  CREED II is not as good as CREED I primarily because ideas are running out – after all it is the 8th film.

The film follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) training in order to defeat the son of Ivan Drago, the powerful athlete who killed his father in the ring more than 33 years prior.

It was in 1985 that the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) killed former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed during an exhibition fight in Las Vegas.  That same year, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeated Ivan Drago in a boxing match on Christmas Day in the Soviet Union. Thirty-three years later, Apollo Creed’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), with Rocky’s training and guidance, seeks to avenge his father’s death by fighting Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) while at the same time, Ivan hopes to reclaim his honour through Viktor.  Stallone plays again Robert “Rocky” Balboa, Sr., the two-time world heavyweight champion and Apollo’s rival-turned-friend who becomes Adonis’ trainer and mentor.  He still owns and operates his Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.

The script surprisingly is sympathetic towards the villain Viktor and his over-unforgiving father Ivan.  During a few points in the film, one actually wishes Viktor would win the fight.  Adonis is comes across (unintentionally) as a spoilt celebrity.  Viktor is shown in the script to be a victim of family circumstances that he cannot escape from.  A similar situation was tapped in Steve McQueen’s WIDOWS where the Colin Farrell character is tied in to his family’s reputation.  Both wish to be out.  This is the only positive difference in the ROCKY films.  On the negative, Stallone ups the melodrama several notches.  Adonis’s girlfriend Bianca Thompson (Tessa Thompson) is suffering from hearing loss.  Rocky Balboa has not seen his son and granddaughter for years and finally gets to reconcile (sob-sob!) at the end of the film.  Rocky visits his late wife Adrian’s grave and speaks to her.  Adonis visits his late father’s grave and talks to him too.  It is this melodrama that kills the movie.  

A neat touch is the appearance at the final fight of Viktor’s mother (played with icy coolness by Brigitte Nielsen) who had deserted the family. 

It is clear that Viktor is the bigger and better fighter, so it is a hard task to make Adonis a credible foe that can beat Viktor.  The script devotes the usually hard training sessions (devised by Rocky that Adonis undergoes – like pulling trucks, turning tires and running in the ht desert).

The climax of the film is understandably the heavyweight championship bout between Adonis and Viktor,  executed with all its expected gore and brutal violence.  The fight begins during the last 15 minutes of the movie.

All that can be done with CREED II is to use the recycled formula of what worked in the past.  The result is a lacklustre over melodramatic film with a few good fighting sequences.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I