Toronto 2019: Just Mercy

(L-r) JAMIE FOXX as Walter McMillian and MICHAEL B. JORDAN as Bryan Stevenson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama JUST MERCY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Just Mercy is a star-studded legal drama directed by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton and tells an important story.

Harvard graduate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) could have gone anywhere after graduating.  After all, he received an array of job offers.  Rather than go for the money, Stevenson ops to help those who need it the most.  In this case, it’s the people sitting on death row in Monroe County.  After setting up shop with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) in 1989, Steven starts looking into cases of inmates at the W.C. Holman Correctional Facility.  But before he can even get to meet the inmates, a prison guard makes him strip off all of his clothing.  Here’s a guy with a law degree and yet he’s forced into taking his clothing off because the guards are most definitely racist.  One case strikes him in particular, that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx)–better known as Johnny D.

Once Stevenson starts digging into the case, he realizes that things don’t add up.  Particularly, the testimony from Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson) feels a bit off.  Further digging into the case reveals a cover-up and witnesses lying under oath.  One can’t help but feel sad for Walter with everything that he and his family were put through.  His friends and family know he is innocent but racist views combined with shoddy testimony means he’s getting framed for someone else’s crime.  Watching this film makes you just want to roll your eyes at the people who locked Walter away.  Even when Bryan gets Walter’s story on 60 Minutes, District Attorney Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) refuses to budge.  Instead, he opts to conduct his own investigation.  The evidence is right there in front of his own eyes!

The film is well directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.  The director teams up with several regulars, which should come as no surprise.  Why fix something if it isn’t broken?  Musically, the score hits all the right beats.

The film is fine when all is said and done.  Even though the film tells a true story, I can’t escape this feeling that I’ve seen the film before.  I just saw Brian Banks in early August.  It means seeing a similar film in barely over a month.  Now, I don’t know about you but I feel that I needed more time in between.

Just Mercy deserves to be considered in its own right and with more time following the release of Brian Banks.  The films are just too similar in plot.  We have a key witness recant testimony in both films.  Someone works very hard to get their name cleared.  This isn’t the first time that similar films get released within the same year nor will it be the last.  I reserve the right to revisit my opinion at a later date but for now, Just Mercy comes off as a formulaic legal drama, elevated by the performances of Jordan, Foxx, and Larson.

DIRECTOR:  Destin Daniel Cretton
SCREENWRITERS:  Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham
CAST:  Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Karan Kendrick

Just Mercy held its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala presentations program. Warner Bros. Pictures will release the film on December 25, 2019. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.