Richard joins CP24 to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the “Little Women,” the war epic “1917,” the courtroom drama “Just Mercy,” the animated spy flick “Spies in Disguise” and Adam Sandler’s surprising work in “Uncut Gems.”
Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel to have a look at the weekend’s big releases including the latest remake of “Little Women,” the war epic “1917,” the courtroom drama “Just Mercy” and Adam Sandler’s surprising work in “Uncut Gems.”
When we first meet Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), known to friends and family as Johnny D, he’s in his element, in the woods chopping down a tree as part of his pulping business. The calm and serenity of his life is soon uprooted by Alabama lawman Sheriff Tate (Michael Harding). What at first seems to be a routine stop takes a turn when Tate snarls, “You wanna make a break for it? ‘Cuz after what you did I’m happy to end this now.”
Those words kick off the action in “Just Mercy,” a based-on-life-events legal drama starring Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. Johnny D is sent to death row even before he is tried and convicted of the murder of an eighteen-year-old local girl. “You don’t know what it’s like down here when you are guilty since you were born,” he says.
After languishing in a tiny cell near the prison’s “death room” for several years Johnny D is visited by Harvard-trained civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Jordan). The former church pianist is an idealistic young man, new to the profession but fueled by a passion to fight injustice. “I wanted to become a lawyer to help people,” he says. Moving to Monroeville, Alabama—where Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”—he sets up the Equal Justice Initiative with the aid of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) with an eye toward undoing wrongs.
It’s a daunting task. On his first visit to the prison he is illegally strip searched by a leering guard on his way in. Worse, the community sees him as someone who wants to put convicted killers back on the street. He deals with death threats, witness intimidation and racism but the biggest hurdle comes down to one cold, hard fact. “You know how many people been freed from Alabama death row?” asks Johnny D. “None.”
Working against the odds Stevenson begins a campaign to expose the corruption that landed his innocent client in jail. “Whatever you did your life is still meaningful,” he says, “and I’m going to do everything I can to stop them from taking it.”
“Just Mercy” does a good job in setting up the obstacles Stevenson encounters on his search for the truth. The film could be criticized for director Destin Daniel Cretton’s traditional, linear approach but the entrenched racism and systemic resistance to change Stevenson deals with are undeniably powerful indictments of a legal system that favors the establishment over everyone else.
Bringing the tale of injustice to life are formidable but understated performances from the core cast. Jordan and Foxx keep the theatrics to a minimum. As Stevenson, Jordan is all business, driven by personal passion but bound by his professional attitude. Foxx is stoic, a man who has lost all hope. When his case takes a turn the change in his body language is a subtle reminder that his attitude has shifted.
Equally as strong are the supporting players. As death row inmate Herbert Richardson, Rob Morgan brings vulnerability to the kind of character who is so often portrayed as a one-dimensional stereotype.
The film’s showiest performance comes from Tim Blake Nelson as a man tormented by his role in Johnny D’s wrongful conviction. His face contorted and scarred he gives the character an arc within his relatively short time on screen.
What “Just Mercy” lacks in flashy storytelling it makes up for in its earnest examination of injustice and discrimination.