Movie Review: “Just Mercy” strongly delivers its unflinching drama

by Matthew Escosia
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Destin Daniel Creton’s “Just Mercy” is showing in select Ayala Malls cinemas across the Philippines starting January 22, 2020 from Warner Bros. Pictures. In this High Five review of the Michael B. Jordan-led drama, we take a look at why the movie is important entertainment.

Michael B. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, a young lawyer who voluntarily takes on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a prisoner from death row who was wrongfully accused of the murder of a teenage woman. As more evidence is discovered to invalidate the blame, Stevenson will have to deal with the injustices attributed to the minority.

Procedural at its core

“Just Mercy” stays true and respectful to the legal process of its case. The battle to defend McMillian, a case that took over six (6) years, can feel like its overstaying its welcome. But its lengthy narration becomes a solid foundation to tell its message, grabbing the opportunity to become more meticulous to present the different areas of where injustices could happen.

Unflinching drama

By wrapping racism as a never-ending struggle, where the movie could easily fall and glamorize to demand calls for heightened catharsis, “Just Mercy” truly shines. This is an unflinching drama, one that centers itself on a man who refuses to lose in a fight. While the film is exceptionally done, I always find myself thinking a director as irate as Spike Lee or Ryan Coogler would pull enough punches to maximize its advocacies.

Out of the conversation

The film doesn’t have the ammunition than it should have. As of writing, only Screen Actors Guild Awards becomes the only major award-giving body to acknowledge the merits of the film (for Jamie Foxx). If any, much of the discussions are focused on its two key actors Jordan and Foxx. Foxx delivered his best performance in years here, but I thought Rob Morgan as McMillian’s fellow death row prisoner Herbert was the most affecting. It appears Morgan or the film is out of the picture for an Academy Award. Too bad.

Loyal to its convention

The biggest problem with “Just Mercy” is that although it strives for so much more, it is a victim of being loyal to the conventions of its genre. This is still a Hollywood movie targeted to be in the mix of awards consideration, and while I am all welcome to watch its advocacies be viewed by the biggest audience possible, it could have been more playful. You can feel the machinery of familiar templates on the get-go to the point that its emotional beats tend to be obvious from a distance.

An incredible finish

Frustrations and the-could-have-been aside, the most striking point of “Just Mercy” is how its story ended (and/ or opened doors for more). The fight to injustice among minority groups remains a crucial struggle globally. The movie showed the success of fighting for it, and the extremely challenging battle to get there. It was able to sell its statement by refusing to be just a statement but an open call for its audience to be a part of it.

“Just Mercy” is nowhere near perfect. But even incompetently produced from a technical standpoint, this is still important entertainment. The film receives a 4 out of 5 waves.

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