JUST MERCY review by Patrick Hendrickson – Michael B. Jordan defends Jamie Foxx in court

JUST MERCY review by Patrick Hendrickson – Michael B. Jordan defends Jamie Foxx in court

Michael B. Jordan stars as Bryan Stevenson in this true story about a black man wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a racially motivated trial. Bryan is a lawyer freshly graduated who moves down to Alabama to begin defending several convicted black men who all had either poor legal defense during their trials or no legal defenses at all. One of his clients is Johnny D. (Jamie Foxx) a lumberer convicted of murdering a young woman despite a severe lack of evidence linking him to the crime and very clear evidence exonerating him entirely. Johnny D. was part of a highly-populated fish fry during the time of the murder, and the major link to him was shaky testimony by an untrustworthy felon.

Jordan and Foxx both carry the story in the two lead roles and both do an outstanding job of bringing across the intense emotions that both of these men must feel as the story goes on. Bryan comes to Alabama unprepared for the severity of the racial discord and struggles immensely to navigate this environment, while Johnny D. shifts from completely hopeless to desperately hopeful as things develop on his case. The only actress that feels somewhat underutilized would be Brie Larson as Eva Ansley, Bryan’s partner in his work. She does as good a job as everyone else in the production, but her character feels left out from a lot of the goings-on. This is unfortunate because Larson does a pretty wonderful job playing her as quite an unflinching part of Stevenson’s team. JUST MERCY is a very powerful and emotional production to sit through, and a lot of this emotion can be credited to the wonderful performances by all of the major cast members. More than a few audience members had to step out during the more difficult portions of the story, and a few sobs could be heard throughout the theater at multiple points.

The most intense subplot of the film is the case of Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD who was convicted of murdering a woman whilst suffering from his condition. Bryan tries everything he can to get Herbert’s execution to be cancelled, but he does not succeed. Herbert’s execution is played out on screen and it is magnificently portrayed. A lot of attention is paid to Herbert’s story and this somewhat distracts from the more focused narrative of Johnny D’s case. Herbert’s subplot is highly engaging but feels somewhat randomly thrown in. It is touched on briefly at the start, goes mostly unspoken about, and then becomes the major focus of the movie for a short time, before focus shifts back onto Johnny D. This leaves JUST MERCY with some very rushed pacing in the last thirty minutes or so.

Aside from those minor pacing issues there is very little to complain about in this production. The emotional performances are highly engaging and the true story that this film portrays is inspiring as well as angering in equal measures. Inspiring because justice IS served at the very long-awaited end to this case and angering because of the obstacles impeding that journey. JUST MERCY earns a 5/5.

JUST MERCY opens January 10, 2020

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