Just Mercy – Based on a true story, this movie directed by Destin Daniel Cretton addresses an old problem in American society: systemic racism in its justice system. It is the late 1980s, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a recent graduate from Harvard decides to leave what could be a relatively comfortable –and safe– law practice in the East Coast, to take a far more risky path: the defence of death row inmates in Alabama.
Being also a black man, Stevenson would be particularly sensitive to the cases of incarcerated blacks waiting to be executed. With the help of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), a white woman active in civil rights, the lawyer would set a legal office. The initiative would be primarily devoted to helping prisoners whose guilty sentences were issued in a manner that could arise many doubts.
One of those men is Walter McMillian a.k.a. Johnnie Dee (Jamie Foxx), convicted for the killing of an 18-year-old white woman. We see at the beginning of the film the circumstances that lead to the arrest of McMillian, which are from that very moment blatantly arbitrary.
Two other inmates are awaiting execution together with McMillian, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) a veteran affected by PTSD a condition that triggered his criminal behaviour, and Anthony Ray Hinton (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who also claims innocence. Stevenson would take their cases too, although too late for Richardson.
Focused on McMillian’s case, the movie would take the viewer through all the legal drama with Stevenson trying to prove his client’s innocence. This could be somehow tedious at times, although necessary to unveil all the actions taken by the prosecutor and the county sheriff to get the black man convicted, including the manipulation of a white convict’s testimony.
“Just Mercy” delivers a compelling story with solid performances that re-create a situation in which –after all– justice was finally achieved only 26 years ago. Then, the question lingers: how many more innocent people are still languishing in prison, due to systemic racism or an unequal system that discriminates again the poor? (The advance screening of this film was also supported by an organization called Innocence Canada. A non-profit organization devoted to fighting for the rights of the wrongly convicted, of which there are too many cases in this country as well).
Running time: 135 min
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