Just Mercy (2019) hits the emotions mercilessly

Just Mercy (2019) is based on an inspirational true story that is prompted by a terrifying one. Walter “Johnny-D” McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is arrested, convicted, and put on death row for a murder he claims he didn’t commit while living in Alabama in the ’80s. Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is a fresh-out-of-law-school civil rights defense attorney who sets up his practice in Alabama to help death row inmates who didn’t get a fair trial. While working through the various cases, Bryan and Johnny-D come in contact, and Bryan sees tons of issues with the original trial. Bryan convinces Johnny-D to let him try for a new trial but finds pushback from the District Attorney, Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall), and others in the community.

Bryan isn’t just fighting for this one case, though. The real emotional pull for me was with another death row inmate – Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) – who admitted to the crime he was convicted of, but whose circumstances make him extremely empathetic. Herbert fought in Vietnam and had been diagnosed with PTSD. He is clearly remorseful, and the crime seems to have been a mistake more so than a malicious one. This case is tough for the audience but even tougher for Byran – and it helps to emphasize exactly what Bryan is fighting for. Just Mercy seems to have an anti-death penalty slant but doesn’t get preachy or directly state that – but it is certainly in the subtext and the actions that Bryan takes. 

Brie Larson plays Eva Ansley, who helps Bryan get his practice started – even allowing him to sleep on her family’s couch until he is able to get the office up and running. Her passion for the issue seems to rival Bryan’s, and the working relationship between them works very well in the film. Yes, Captain Marvel and Kilmonger work very well together on screen as well, with a very natural chemistry that I wasn’t surprised to see from the two very talented young actors. Foxx is also great and gives a rather subdued performance, which isn’t something he always gets to demonstrate. 

In some ways, this movie does exactly what you would expect a movie like this to do. However, it does it well, and I was stirred emotionally at least three times. Tim Blake Nelson plays a pivotal role in the film, and I’m always glad to see him getting work. I was even more pleased to see the direction his character goes. Just Mercy is definitely worth your time, and will likely upset you, if – like me – injustice lights a fire inside of you. Just Mercy earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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