It’s a heavy world out there right now.
Looming war, never-ending discord and what seems like constant animosity haunt our every step. While a movie like Just Mercy — a true story about a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who has dedicated his career to helping incarcerated people who couldn’t afford legal counsel — may seem like adding more weight to the pile, it actually ends up being cathartic.
As Jordan’s Stevenson works to compile evidence proving that his client didn’t actually murder a local teenage girl, the audience is shown a whole other story: the sad, disgusting legacy of racism in the southern U.S.
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Is this movie hard to watch?
At times it can be, but really it should be essential viewing for classrooms and people studying criminology and/or prison reform. The truth is hard, period. The movie effortlessly and smoothly travels with Stevenson on his journey from eager law student to the owner and creator of not-for-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative.
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How is the acting?
Really, really great. It’s not like we needed any indicator of how good Jordan is; his work, from The Wire to Friday Night Lights to Fruitvale Station to Creed, is always outstanding, and here we get a little taste of what he can offer in a more serious, suit-and-tie type role. Jordan has a magnetism and screen charisma that most actors would kill for.
Foxx, like Jordan, is captivating as a man facing his death for a crime he didn’t commit. Without an excessive amount of dialogue, Foxx must use his facial expressions and body language to convey feelings, and does he ever succeed. I was almost brought to tears by a simple look of anguish on his face.
Any weaknesses to the movie?
Brie Larson’s supporting character, based on a real-life woman who works at EJI, feels shoehorned in. Despite her being a real person, she comes off as an add-on to have a female voice in the film. Larson does her best with what she’s given.
The only other sticking point is the rose-coloured view of death row inmates. While one out of 10 inmates has been proven to be innocent of the crime they’re imprisoned for — which is an abysmal statistic — we can’t ignore that many death row inmates are, in fact, killers, rapists and abusers. Some scenes make it seem like death row is some group of misunderstood men looking for a friend. That is not reality.
Minor quibbles, all in all, in what is a very compelling film.
So what’s the bottom line?
Just Mercy will make you reconsider all you’ve ever thought about capital punishment, but most especially the barbarism of the death penalty. It’ll also open your eyes to the endless battle against racism, and how our justice and governmental systems are stacked against Black people. Touching, heartbreaking and rage-inducing, the movie is as much a lesson as it is a story.
‘Just Mercy’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.Follow @CJancelewicz
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