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TIFF 2019: ‘Just Mercy’ Boasts Powerful Performances From Its Cast – Review

There are many cracks within the justice system and many people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes who have spent years behind bars and on death row. With the appeals process being long and arduous, many are left feeling hopeless and ignored – and it’s no surprise why. However, attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson dedicated his life to helping those who are the most vulnerable. Having penned the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Stevenson highlighted the case on which the film Just Mercy is based.

Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is a young criminal justice attorney who is seeking to make the lives of his clients better, while trying to right the many wrongs of the justice system in the process. With both passion and courage, Stevenson begins to take on some of the most difficult cases including the case of death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx). After reading McMillian’s file, Stevenson knows that a plethora of factors, including racism played a factor in McMillian’s arrest, and the case was rife with discrepancies and evidence which pointed to McMillian being innocent – all of which was ignored.

Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian and Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Along the way, Stevenson enlists the help of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), who is just as invested in the Equal Justice Initiative. Ansley is eager to work alongside Stevenson and is with the young attorney throughout the appeals process for McMillian. Of course, the road to McMillian’s appeal is far from an easy one and although Stevenson experiences many roadblocks in his path including threats, he and his team continue on the path to finding justice for their client. 

While Just Mercy is not necessarily different in its approach to the subject matter, it is, however, bolstered by powerful performances from its cast. The standouts for me were Foxx as McMillian and Rob Morgan as Herbert Richardson, an incarcerated veteran with severe PTSD. There wasn’t a moment that passed in the film where you weren’t captivated by both Foxx’s and Morgan’s performances. In fact, for me, both men carried this film and I am glad they were in it because I don’t think the movie would have been the same without them. Their execution in a wide range of emotions was just what the film needed and both actors truly shone in their respective roles. Watching the pair at work was truly a gift unto itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Foxx and Morgan were among some of the actors being talked about and nominated come awards season. 

Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian in Just Mercy (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Jordan and Larson were also good in their respective roles and it was clear that while Jordan is the film’s main character, he wasn’t the film’s sole focus. The movie was made to shed more light on the injustice of the prison system and how that, coupled with rampant racism was the cause of so many men being wrongfully imprisoned – sentenced to life or death. This goes to Destin Daniel Cretton’s excellent directing and screenwriting. Cretton knew just what to focus on within the film and to make sure the most important parts were at the forefront for the audience to take in. While there were many topics to touch upon in the film, it was clear that Cretton and fellow screenplay writer, Andrew Lanham, ensured that each was addressed fully and succinctly. 

While films that explore human suffering are common, Just Mercy is one that strives to make people aware that there is still so much work to do, how society has failed many people, specifically Black people. However, it also enfuses hope that there are those, like Stevenson, who are trying their best to fight the good fight and dismantle a system that is stacked against us. Just Mercy is most definitely a film that should be on your watch lists.

Just Mercy hits theaters on December 25. 

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