Just Mercy
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REVIEW: Bigotry rears ugly head in death row drama Just Mercy

Just Mercy is based on a true story. It’s the late ‘80’s and Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) is a young black lawyer, fresh out of Harvard.

After interning in Alabama, and despite the protests from his family, he declines well-paying jobs in the north to head back down south to a place where people really need him.

With a small government grant in his bank account and the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson), he starts to assist those people, including death row inmates, who would otherwise have little or no legal representation.

One of Bryan’s first cases is Walter McMillian (Foxx) who’s been sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman.

The case is built on flimsy evidence and the word of convicted criminal Ralph Myers (Nelson) who has every reason to lie.

Bryan is up against it all, right from the get-go. It doesn’t matter that he’s a lawyer because, as a black man in the deep south of the United States, the odds are already stacked against him.

Just Mercy
What I found particularly troubling is this story isn’t set 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. It’s the early ‘90’s. The deep-seated racism of the south is ugly and all-encompassing.

The inmates Bryan finds himself representing are even worse off because, in a world controlled by a racist white society, they have no hope of ever having their truth told or being released from prison.

Should I watch it?

Just Mercy is a courtroom drama, there’s no getting away from it. There’s nothing particularly wondrous about the script or the to-and-fro drama that ensues, in and out of the courtroom.

We have the feisty young black man who wants to change the world, aided by his trusty white female sidekick with a heart of gold and the tenacity of a pit bull. We’ve seen it many times and some of those movies have had far greater shock value.

But what I found particularly troubling is this story isn’t set 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. It’s the early ‘90’s. The deep-seated racism of the south is ugly and all-encompassing.

The first day Bryan, a Harvard educated lawyer, shows up to prison to meet with Walter, a white prison guard humiliates him by telling him he needs to undergo a strip search.

Bryan counters, reminding the guard that lawyers don’t need to do any such thing. The young prison guard, who’s around the same age as Bryan and just bristles with all that white supremacist power he’s no doubt grown up with, doesn’t miss a beat.

Even when Bryan is naked in a holding room, he throws in the utterly demeaning ‘spread your cheeks’. Just for fun.

Where the movie shines is that it’s a true tale of one man’s quest to not just accept things as they are, to not be bullied or subdued and to stand up for those who society simply prefers not to deal with. And he does it with the humble grace of a true gentleman.

Bryan and Walter’s story is gut-wrenching and moving. Bring some tissues because it doesn’t shy away from the reality of being a death row prisoner, even if you’re innocent. My friend who saw the movie with me said it reminded her of The Green Mile. And she’s right.

And don’t leave before the lights are up. As this is a true story, you’ll get to see what happened. And those words on the screen will fill you with joy and rage in equal measure.

4 stars

Running Time:  137 minutes
Release Date:  In cinemas now
Cast: Michael B Jordan, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx, Rafe Spall, Michael Harding, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Karan Kendrick

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Written by Sue Ellen

Copywriter. Writer. Reviewer. Coffee addict. Handbag tragic. Conspiracy tin hatter. Drama Queen.