Just Mercy REVIEW – A Powerful, Poignant Real-Life Story

A powerful and uncomfortably relevant film, with a superb turn from its cast.

Just Mercy follows the incredible true story of civil rights defence attorney Bryan Stevenson who, fresh out of Harvard University, dedicates his life to freeing those wrongly condemned to execution on Death Row. It’s the sort of story that screams out for a big-screen adaptation, and director Destin Daniel Cretton uses this iteration to promote a number of messages that feel vital in today’s toxic and frustrating western political climate.

One of the film’s central themes is around black rights (or lack thereof) and the dishearteningly flawed workings of the justice system in the United States. The movie predominantly focuses on the single case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was wrongly sentenced to death after an unbelievable witch-hunt driven by police coercion and perjury.

Through concentrating on one man and his family’s struggles, Cretton establishes a deep bond between these human beings and the audience, helping to increase the impact and empathy evoked by this powerful, yet cruel, tale. The developments on screen leave you feeling angry and disgusted that such a thing could ever happen – and demoralised knowing that this level of injustice continues to occur in the modern day. The stories in this film took place decades ago but they still feel depressingly relevant, and Cretton does a brilliant job of emphasising this point.

The movie also takes the opportunity to tackle the issue of the death penalty in general, with its final shot stating that 1 in 9 people on Death Row are falsely accused, a shocking margin of error. This feels in direct response to the tendency of people, especially on social media, to say “they deserve the chair” whenever an individual is accused of a crime, even before a fair and open trial.

Cretton inserts a deliberately drawn-out, deeply intimate execution scene that demonstrates the real horror involved in such a demand, as the camera slowly pans across the face of a certain character in their final moments before cutting to the traumatised reaction of Michael B Jordan’s Bryan. It is a stunningly personal moment which is impressively executed, and leaves questions in the mind of the audience long after they leave the cinema.

For such a story to be told effectively, the script must feel real and authentic, and Just Mercy’s screenplay certainly is. Real-life movies often fall into the trap of over-dramatising their dialogue; attempts at making moments impactful can feel artificial or noticeably Hollywoodised. Yet here the characters feel genuine, their struggles relatable and engaging. The film does not rely on hyperbole or drama to tell its compelling tale. Instead it relies on the humanity of its subjects and the sincerity of its messages, emphasising its principles without feeling theatrical.

The script is incredibly well-executed by the phenomenal cast, who help to bring these real human beings to life. Foxx is fantastic here, putting in a real, raw performance as the wrongly-accused McMillian. Rafe Spall is solid as the arrogantly antagonistic District Attorney Tommy Chapman, and Brie Larson does well despite having disappointingly little to do. Yet the film is driven by the deeply impressive Michael B Jordan, whose influential performance carries the film from start to finish. This is arguably the most mature performance of Jordan’s blossoming career, demonstrating a level of emotional depth and vulnerability that the audience has yet to fully see in other films.

Despite its many positives the film takes too long to get going, its 2 hour 16 minute runtime feeling unnecessarily bloated and lessening its impact on the audience. The visuals are also relatively underwhelming, with Cretton opting to tell the story in a simple manner without the beauty of a movie like If Beale Street Could Talk.

Nonetheless, this is a powerful film that feels uncomfortably relevant in our modern day. Cretton effectively adapts the unbelievable true story of Bryan Stevenson for today’s audience, and promotes the movie’s principles without melodrama. This authentic, honest analysis of key issues in western society has a number of important things to say – it’s time we start to listen.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

This powerful real-life story has a number of key messages, brilliantly told by its authentic script and phenomenal cast.