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Destin Daniel Cretton’s most recent film Just Mercy uncovers the controversial topic of the death penalty and the corruption of the United States justice system in a true story based on Bryan Stevenson’s New York Times bestselling novel. Cretton starts off the year with a bang by releasing a passionate film that graces the screens with a powerful story portraying the realities of our society and is sure to educate a generation.
Just Mercy follows the story of young and freshly-graduated Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) while he fights for justice on behalf of convicts on Alabama’s death row in the early ‘90s. The film is based on the true story of the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx). McMillian (otherwise known as Johnny D.) has murdered a teenage girl, and while close family and neighbors all agree that McMillan is not guilty and that there is an abundance of evidence that would exonerate him, the sheriff’s department believes otherwise. They take Walter into custody, eventually giving him the death penalty. Stevenson then picks up the case as one of his very first, beginning to unravel it with the help of local advocate and psychologist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson).
Once the pair begins work on the case, they notice that the only piece of evidence incriminating Walter is a fraudulent testimony given by Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who was bribed by the DA to put McMillan away, posing as a setback for Stevenson and McMillan. The supporting cast of characters also includes Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a fellow criminal awaiting his date on death row, and whose case is taken by Bryan; Anthony Ray Hilton (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) similar to Richardson is a convict whose case is taken by Bryan; and Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) as the DA working against McMillan and Stevenson, who convinces Myers to give a false witness confession.
Cinematically, the acting was phenomenal. Michael B. Jordan fits the role perfectly as a hero and Jamie Foxx respectfully portrays what it’s like to be an inmate on death row. Even the smaller actors like Karan Kendrick as McMillan’s wife, Minnie. The camera work and framing were what particularly made the movie more enjoyable for me. In specific the scene with McMillan sitting in his cell, showing how small his world is and the living conditions he lives in every day. The directors and producers of the film portrayed the emotions of every character respectfully and properly, showing what it’s like to be a family member, friend, neighbor, and even a bystander when the justice system fails to be humane.
Cretton has won three awards at multiple film festivals and has impressed several audiences with Just Mercy. The film, unfortunately, wasn’t nominated for this year’s Oscars which was a shock to some– it seemed like an obvious choice to many. I, however, really enjoyed it. There were some slight problems in the plot and that could’ve been changed to make a better film, but the various cinematic astonishments in the piece outweigh any flaws. One of the most moving scenes portrayed in the film was the prisoners clanging their cups on the bars of the cells to indicate when they are supporting their fellow inmates. I do understand that the film didn’t go up for any Oscar nominations, and I believe it was the right choice given the large number of great films this year but few other films this year can send a chill down the spine and bring a tear to an eye as quickly and honestly as this masterful film.