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‘Just Mercy’ Review: Dir. Destin Daniel Cretton (2019) [TIFF]

Just Mercy review: A superb all-star cast assembles for a remarkable true story based on the professional life of Bryan Stevenson, the Alabama-based defence lawyer who gained status and regard for taking on difficult death row cases where inmates have been served disservice, and even incarcerated when they are completely innocent.

Just Mercy review

Just Mercy review – Image Courtesy Of TIFF

In the film version of his story, Michael B. Jordan plays Stevenson, who we meet for the first time at the start of the movie when he is still in college, acting as an intern for a law firm representing prisoners on remand facing the death penalty. It is here where he gets the desire to represent inmates on the row, though we almost immediately fast forward two years after he has graduated Harvard and about to move down to Alabama to set up shop. There, he meets Walter McMillian, played by Jamie Foxx, a married father of three who has been accused, charged and subsequently sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl – a crime that it is evident that he did not commit.

Stevenson takes the case, along with many others, looking for holes in the investigation, the prosecution and the ultimate sentencing of McMillian, hoping to reverse decisions and gain a retrial, taking his client from death row. Joining him on his mission are the likes of Brie Larson, an alumni of co-writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s previous two movies Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle. Here, the Oscar-winner plays legal assistant Eva Ansley, more of a supporting role, but equally an important one in Stevenson’s story, Rafe Spall as district attorney Tommy Champan and both O’Shea Jackson and Jr. and Rob Morgan as two fellow death row inmates who are taken under the wing of the young lawyer.

Related: Just Mercy gets a first trailer

First and foremost, the performances in Just Mercy are all virtually flawless, particular standouts being Foxx as the inmate facing the death penalty, the main focus of this story, Larson as Ansley, equally impressive as ever, despite her more limited screen time, and Jordan creating lots of impact away from the more fantastical roles we’ve seen him in in the past. Rob Morgan is perhaps the most memorable of the piece, a stunning portrayal of a man battling internal demons as Herbert Richardson. His scenes with Jordan are some of the best in the piece.

As a legal drama, Just Mercy is moulded as you’d expect, a very paint by numbers approach with plot beats and an ending is very predictable. However, the outcome is not what this is about – it’s about the journey; Stevenson’s journey and Cretton captures the essence and purpose of the lawyer’s endevours perfectly. It is absorbing from the off, right until the end, completely engages the viewer and enraptures the audience as well as completely devastates and infuriates them with the injustices being played out before them.

Just Mercy is a film that will be front and centre come awards season. Expect nods for the acting – we’re looking at you Mr. Foxx and Mr. Morgan, and potential ensemble awards for the rest of the acting. A powerful piece that packs a punch and one hell of a message for modern America, despite being set over two decades ago. Unmissable.

Just Mercy was reviewed at TIFF 2019.


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