In the bestseller film adaptation JUST MERCY the viewer is confronted with the ugly side of American legal practice. An oppressive, disturbing drama with a great Jamie Foxx. We reveal more about this in our review.
The path to freedom is the same as to death…
The plot summary
After graduating from Harvard, the young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) could have chosen lucrative jobs. Instead, he goes to Alabama to work with local attorney Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) to defend people who were wrongfully convicted or couldn’t afford a proper defense. One of his first and most explosive cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to death in 1987 for the infamous murder of an 18-year-old, even though most evidence proved his innocence and the only testimony against him came from a criminal, who had a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan’s fight for Walter and many others entangles him in a maze of legal and political maneuvers, confronting him with open and unabashed racism while the odds – and the system – are stacked against them.
Just Mercy Movie Meaning of ending
Harper Lee’s “To Disturb the Nightingale” from 1961 is an American literary classic that is still on the curriculum in many schools today. In it, little Jean Louise describes the events of her childhood when her father Atticus Finch, as a lawyer, took on the defense of a black man who was convicted of rape despite clear evidence of innocence. The story takes place in a fictional small town called Maycomb, located in the real state of Alabama. Where the Delaware-born lawyer and civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) almost 30 years later; a non-profit organization that provides potentially wrongfully convicted prisoners with a reopening of their case and subsequent fair defense, particularly those sentenced to death. Bryan Stevenson wrote a bestseller about his career and his motivations, which director Destin Daniel Cretton filmed as a conventional biographical drama under the eponymous title “Just Mercy”, and in it it stabs into such large open wounds (just the statistics about wrongfully convicted death row inmates at the end of the film sends a shiver down your spine) that you almost think you’ve found the reason for this season’s complete Oscar ignorance. “Just Mercy” holds up an oppressive mirror to parts of the American population. Because even if the real screen events took place several decades ago, the racism that is openly practiced here has not changed in many parts of the USA (and the whole world) to this day.
Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) have sworn to fight for the unheard.
The Equal Justice Initiative was founded in the small town of Montgomery, Alabama. Exactly where the so-called Mockingbird Museum stands today, which is recommended to the lawyer Bryan Stevenson by pretty much every person in a position of power over the course of the film. It’s doubtful that you just want to give the newly arrived Bryan a few leisure tips. In reality, this reference to the literary classic is of course also a nod to the fence post. Because the committed Harvard graduate has every conceivable obstacle put in his way on his odyssey between the EJI office, death row and the courthouse, because lawyers, mayors and later judges simply do not want to give up on generally not giving any faith to African Americans in court. Admittedly, there is of course a lot of symbolism inherent in this essentially derogatory gesture. But that’s exactly how Bryan Stevenson describes the events in his partly biographical, partly autobiographical book. And since racism is not a problem limited to the state of Alabama, it ultimately wouldn’t matter where “Just Mercy” takes place anyway. The recurring motif of the lawyer giving those who have never been heard the urgently needed voice simply underlines that absolutely nothing has changed about the problem in several decades.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton has produced work that has varied in quality over the course of his career. Thanks to his fine powers of observation, he made “Short Term 12,” one of the best films of 2013, and an extremely authentic insight into care facilities for mentally ill young people. Four years later, his melodrama “Castle Made of Glass” angered audiences with its overly offensive kitsch that hardly did justice to the fate of the family portrayed in it. And to dig further into the filmmaker’s CV: Cretton also worked as a screenwriter for the terrible Christian drama “The Hut – A Weekend with God” . For “Just Mercy”, however, the director, who was once again responsible for the script, is now back to his old strength. Although dramaturgically his film adheres quite closely to the schemes of similar productions. Bryan Stevenson gets to know his new client, reopens the case based on existing evidence and files, stumbles over various contradictions and gradually works towards reopening the case, until in the end – which of course should not be revealed despite the true events – either re-conviction or acquittal stands. In terms of staging, Cretton allows himself only a few artistic differences. Instead, in “Just Mercy” he primarily lets the underlying injustice speak for itself. For example, it is particularly disturbing that all the contradictions in the evidence have not even been largely covered up. They were simply not displayed in court because no one cared about defending a black man anyway. And when the execution of a death penalty in the electric chair is shown almost in real time, the filmmaker doesn’t have to point the camera at it. The procedure carried out by the guards in a frighteningly routine manner, from being picked up from the cell to shaving the head and selecting the music to be played at the time of the execution, has a much greater impact than any overly drastic selection of images.
While the fate of Walter McMillian, who was wrongly imprisoned for murder, and his self-sacrificing defense by Bryan Stevenson form the core of “Just Mercy”, the makers also allow themselves a few glances to the left and right over the course of the lush running time of 137 minutes To illustrate the extent of the problems within the US legal system. For example, the viewer learns some background information about prisoners who are also sentenced to death, such as Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan). The severely traumatized war veteran is guilty of building a bomb that accidentally killed an 11-year-old girl. However, Richardson did not receive a fair trial, nor did Ralph Meyers (Tim Blake Nelson), Walter McMillian’s only prosecution witness, who is a victim of justice in a completely different way. The film doesn’t give everyone the same amount of attention, but above all enough attention. Two and a quarter hours isn’t enough time for that. But it is enough to illustrate that “Just Mercy” is not about getting guilty people out of prison when in doubt, but rather that the goal should be a fair trial. Michael B. Jorden supports this with his passionate, rousing playing (“Creed”) as well as Jamie Foxx (“Robin Hood”) in an outstanding performance as Walter McMillian, who has long since lost faith in justice. In the photographs by Janusz Kaminski, which are dominated by the color white (“The Judge – Law or Honor”), which dresses the film in the usual paralyzing images, the two deliver brilliant dialogues characterized by pain, helplessness, but increasing confidence. And if you weren’t so damn cynical, you would ultimately hope that a film like “Just Mercy” could maybe change something just a little bit.
Conclusion: With “Just Mercy”, director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a drama that is not very spectacular in terms of narrative, but is all the more intensely played about a sick US legal system, at the end of which no one will have the idea that the death penalty is a good invention.
“Just Mercy” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from February 27th.