REVIEW: ‘Just Mercy’ a poignant, haunting reflection of nation today

Adapted from lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson’s memoir and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, “Just Mercy” is a timely legal drama that brings tears and anger to every viewer. It is a moving true-life story that will remind the viewer of how little progress we as a society have made since the real-life case of McMillian v. Monroe County, Alabama. It is a reminder of the shackles that bind the marginalized, and in a world where black men are shot by white cops every day, it is a poignant and haunting reflection of the state of our nation today. 

Monroe County, Alabama, 1987. Local tree feller Johnny D. McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is arrested by a battalion of white cops for the murder of white teenager Rhonda Morrison. Years after his arrest, kind-eyed but distrusting McMillian is sitting on death row when he meets fresh Harvard Law graduate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan). 

Stevenson just moved to the county to defend death row inmates who are unable to acquire adequate legal aid. Initially, McMillian sends Stevenson away, claiming that there isn’t anything he can do, but Stevenson refuses to quit, heading down to Monroeville where he meets with McMillian’s entire family. He instantly falls in love with them, and promises to bring McMillian home. Thus begins the struggle of one man to bring justice to a silenced inmate.

Foxx and Jordan excel as McMillian and Stevenson. Jordan gives Stevenson a naive but calm demeanor that makes the audience feel like nothing can trip him up, and Foxx’s McMillian is a soft-spoken but wary inmate whose lack of faith in the justice system has hardened him. The chemistry between the two is heart-warming and brings light to an otherwise dark and heavy film. The audience is rooting for the pair, loudly voicing their approval or lack thereof at each courtroom decision. 

At the culmination of the film, sniffling and scattered cheering is heard around the theatre. For such heavy material, the viewing experience is incredible, and that is thanks to the work of Foxx and Jordan.

Cretton’s film feels like a Best Picture winner, and the lead performances feel like Best Actor nominees, but in a world that is so similar to the one that McMillian and Stevenson fought in more than 30 years ago, it shouldn’t be surprising that the film received exactly zero nominations. Cretton, Foxx and Jordan are only three people snubbed in a list that goes on for days. Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong’o, Awkwafina, Song Kang-ho have all been snubbed as well, and Lulu Wang was left off the Best Director list with Cretton. 

With a script by Cretton and Andrew Lanham that is straight-forward but beautiful, and moving ensemble performances from Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson and Rafe Spall, the film leaves viewers contemplating the state of society. With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy trending on every social media platform, I think it’s safe to say that the state of society isn’t looking good.