Just out of Harvard Law School, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) heads south to help convicts who facing execution on Alabama’s infamous ‘death row’. There he meets Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who has been convicted of murdering a woman on the shaky testimony of another convict. Sensing a miscarriage of justice, Bryan convinces Walter to let him pursue the case. However, in a state where injustice is so ingrained, no convict has ever made it off ‘death row’ alive, guilty or otherwise…
...is a dramatisation that shuffles when it should be striding.
In this real-life adaptation of a landmark trial, ‘Just Mercy’ is a well-intentioned and merit-able dramatisation of a tragedy of justice. With a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and Blake T. Nelson, it is definitely a film that doesn’t lack for dramatic talent to tell its story. However, following in the footsteps of other penal reform dramas, this is a dramatisation that shuffles when it should be striding.
The main reason for this is the longueur and pacing of its scenes. Without the benefit of either heart-pounding suspense and decently sharpened arguments to make its case, ‘Just Mercy’ sadly becomes just adequate. Whilst previous death-row dramas like ‘Dead Man Walking‘ kept you on the edge of your seat and problematic civil rights classic ‘Mississippi Burning‘ communicated the dread of blinkered prejudice, this movie does neither.
Bereft of these lines of enquiry, the merit of its import gets lost in its telling. For a racially-charged drama set in US state where, as Jamie Foxx’s Johnny D puts it: “You’re guilty from the moment that you’re born”, the passionate shadow of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird‘ should be more than the commendably ironic subtext it’s referred to.
Taken into full consideration, there is nothing essentially wrong with ‘Just Mercy’. It’s just that when all of its real-life photos and character summaries come up during the end credits, you’ll possibly be wishing it’d been realised as a documentary rather than a drama.
Let’s see. Case adjourned.0