In Brief: You’d think the people who do a movie about makeup would makeup a better story.
In 1988 Walter McMillian was found guilty of murdering a young woman. A judge in an Alabama court sentenced McMillian to death. The problem? McMillian in no way murdered the woman. He was with family all day on the day of her death.
McMillian was railroaded. He claims one reason was because he — a black man — had an affair with a white woman. As you know, that was a major-league no-no in Alabama in the 1980s.
The police lied and coerced a guy into saying he was with McMillian and saw him standing over the woman’s body. He told other lies as well and those lies were blatant whoppers. Equal Justice Initiative lawyer Bryan Stevenson reviewed the case and was shocked that anyone possibly believed the police theory.
But McMillian is black so it was really no surprise. And it’s no surprise that, after six-years on death row, Stevenson — also an African American — got McMillian off.
Just Mercy is their story.
Of course the focus is the injustice of the death penalty and how African Americans in that era — and it’s inferred — this one, are often singled out, automatically assumed guilty and used as convenient scapegoats when the real culprit can’t be found.
As we all know, there is some truth in that.
The film does, however, point out that all, whether it is someone of color or poor white trash, deserve real justice. The movie makes the statement that it often does not happen.
Creed and Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan stars as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx does the role of McMillian. Brie Larson co-stars as Eva Ansley who assisted Stevenson in this case and other cases throughout his career.
Jordan does most of the acting heavy lifting and the story is more about Stevenson and what he did. He specializes — as does Foxx — in being low-key and underplays the part. It helps give their characters credibility.
Larson — unfortunately — doesn’t have a lot to do except toss off a line or two here and there to help propel the story forward. Tim Blake Nelson has a small part as the white guy who lied and got McMillian his death sentence. Few actors can do slimy better than Nelson and he’s really good in this one.
Everyone else — the actors doing McMillian’s family and those doing the authorities — are window dressing.
Just Mercy is co-written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. His resume includes a couple of interesting art films — Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle. While this one — at 2:16 — is a reel too long and a bit dragged out, his straight-ahead storytelling style serves the material well. Cretton gives you the obligatory three-hanky, feel-good ending and a bit of preaching the climax.
The simplistic preaching is the only real negative. It’s like he — and other directors doing this kind of movie — can’t comprehend that we actually do understand the impact of what happened on the screen. So they bludgeon us with a few lines to make sure we understand.
The info as the credits roll on who did what, and what happened to the real people involved is enough. After a couple of hours of sitting through a film that was a little too long, the sermonizing had me asking for my own kind of mercy.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx, Rafe Spall, Tim Blake Nelson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Anthony Ray Hinton, Rob Morgan, Claire Bronson, Karen Kendrick, Michael Harding
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.