This is another instance of why I’m glad that I wait a few days to write my reviews after watching the movie, to give myself time to reflect on what I felt was important about the movie and to see what really stood out. In the case of this film, “Just Mercy,” I can now say that not much of this film really stands out – it is your basic legal drama with emphasis on how racist was diabolical in the 80s and 90s. The film offers little of substance and feels very by-the-numbers in its legal cases, feeling like every other courtroom drama out there. Despite the film depicting real life events, in particular Harvard graduate Bryan Steveson (Michael B. Jordan) opening up a legal firm in a small Alabama town for death-row inmates who can’t afford legal support and his attempts to get a man wrongfully convicted of a murder, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), there are few times where the film creates its own identity, instead coming across as a quieter, more reserved “A Few Good Man.”
When I walked out of “Just Mercy,” there were some elements worth praising, mostly in the acting from Jordan and Foxx, who do quietly show the turmoil that came with the racism and bigotry. However, while Jordan has moments of pain and regret, he spends most of the film being stoic, leaving his acting a lot to be desired. Foxx is good, though the best performance just might be Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers, a convicted criminal whose testimony led to McMillian getting arrested. Nelson nails the criminal with nothing to lose yet is confused by the opportunity to do something good by helping the man he put on death row, like you can see the conflict going on inside his head over doing what he knows is right or doing what he’s been told do his entire life to keep himself clean.
However, the biggest problem is that “Just Mercy” doesn’t have anything to say other than general platitudes – Racism is bad, and everyone deserves justice. It doesn’t get to the root of these problems and lacks any sort of subtlety or nuances. There is an attempt at a larger sense of humanity through the racial divide, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It just ends up being your fairly generic courtroom drama with some worthwhile performances, nothing to really write home about.
Final Grade: C