Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Marcus A. Griffin Jr., Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan
This story of Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who goes to Alabama to defend the disenfranchised, wrongly condemned, including Walter McMillian, a man facing death row simply because he fit in as a convenient scapegoat, brings to mind Hansal Mehta’s Rajkumar Rao-starrer, ‘Shahid’ which told a similar story – about discrimination and injustice. Though Cretton’s film is a period piece focused equally on Stevenson and his clients on Death Row, and Mehta’s film was rather biographical, concentrating around the principal character’s trials – they both mirror the injustices of the period they are set in.
Cretton’s film might not have any connection with contemporary India but the thematic resonance on the aspect of injustice and bias against minorities is tangible enough to power this experience. This movie sends out the message that “hatred, in all its terrible power, will never be as powerful as justice.”
We get to experience Stevenson’s privileged nobility (a rare Harvard educated Black Lawyer, in those discriminatory times) and suppressed rage at the systemic maleficence which sees nothing in putting a fellow black man on Death Row for a crime he did not commit. That said, ‘Just Mercy’ doesn’t go beyond the common stereotype for such films.
Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham adapt Stevenson’s memoir highlighting Stevenson (Micheal B Jordon) and Eve Ansley’s (Brie Larson) role in awakening the system to its injustices (through their ‘Equal Justice Initiative’) while pinpointing undervaluing of Black lives w.r.t. White lives, shadowing a veteran whose PTSD left unchecked leads to disastrous consequences, corruption among law officials, justice system imbalances and, even shows how a disadvantaged white man (Tim Blake Nelson) is used to incriminate an even more disadvantaged black man.
Watch the trailer of Just Mercy here:
True stories have their impact on the collective conscience – especially if presented in an inspirational manner. This film, unfortunately, is more interested in presenting Stevenson’s memorable quotes than in unveiling his true grit through the mechanism of authentically developed drama. The quotes are, of course, unforgettable gems that stand validated even in today’s troubled times – be it in Trump’s America or far off India. While the incidents in this film are affecting, they don’t exactly help achieve memorability in any measure. The performances are competent enough but there’s no standout here. Even aspects of cinematography (Brett Pawlak) and music (Joel P. West) are pretty much standard issue here.
This film may not be a brilliant cinematic experience but it is, like Bryan Stevenson says, “about how easily we condemn people in this country (and others) and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.”
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