Over the past few years, ever since his breakthrough film Short Term 12 (which premiered and won the grand prize at the SXSW Film Festival in 2013), Destin Daniel Cretton, ever since his inception in the film industry, has sparked a genuine respectful perspective on real life role-models and heroes. From The Glass Castle to the newly released Just Mercy, there’s no denying that the guy has talent when delving into nitty gritty situations and subject matter, in an educative, passive light. None of his film’s feel exploitative, and the boundary between fact and fiction is easily distinguished between Destin’s art and his respect for others. With Just Mercy, he continues this trend of mutual admiration of larger than life heroes, with the unsung cinematic journey of Bryan Stevenson, and his perilous brave attempts at rescuing innocent inmates from death row.
The film opens with Stevenson visiting a death row convict, where he explains to the victim their current date and time of execution. Stevenson is only a student intern at this point; as he clarifies his way into a judicial battlefield. At the same time, while the two chat, we see the unfortunate incarceration of Walter McMillan. Portrayed by Jamie Foxx, not only is Walter one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, but he’s also the most responsive. Shackled up for six years; waiting for the time of one’s own eventual demise, is a nightmarish thought that Walter had to endure. From Foxx’s breathing patterns to somber tears, he gives it his all in what can be described as an affectionate role that will sell too Academy voters and audiences alike. There’s something so charming and lovable about his presentation, that sells the heartwarming tone of the film.
Michael B Jordan, Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson successfully nail their respective role, with the same respectful attitude, which Foxx manages to add onto his performance. While nowhere close to the same emotional range of Jamie’s character, there’s still a plethora of “oscar-clip” moments, that may reconsider one’s stance on the supporting and lead cast of the film. There’s even some solid technical merits, with it’s small-scale look and generally dry feeling to it’s architecture and color scheme.
Slight, yet rewarding, Just Mercy is a grand crowd-pleaser that will perfectly send off the year 2019. It’s nowhere near perfect, but the messages communicated here are ones that come from an admirable stance on humanitarian ethics. Destin and his talented crew are Good Samaritans for making this film; which is an important piece of entertainment that will empower wrongfully convicted inmates and minority groups everywhere.
Just Mercy screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film will open in select cinemas on December 25th, followed by a nationwide release on January 10th, 2020.