No Concessions: 'Just Mercy' illustrates America's original sin is still alive

The fight for equality and justice as it relates to race, class, crime and the judicial system is still an ever-present battle across the country. Whether it’s the Exonerated Five, or the Jena Six, the blade of the law cuts Black and poor people differently. Just Mercy is a resonating film about the work to reverse such calamities entrenched within America.

Based on a true story and the book of the same name, Just Mercy centers on Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Black Harvard Law graduate who established the Equal Justice Imitative in 1988 to assist wrongfully convicted and imprisoned inmates. Many of them Black. Many of them poor. On death row. In rural Alabama.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), we view the beginning of Stevenson’s work through a single case: the murder of 18-year-old Rhonda Morrison. A year without any suspects leads to the arrest of Walter “Johnny D” McMillian (Jamie Foxx). On the word of one white felon, McMillian is jailed, charged, placed on death row while awaiting trial, and eventually convicted. He is set to die for a crime he did not commit.

While the story and progression is familiar fare, the performances and emotional depth strike home. Jordan is moving in one of his best roles. Grounded and sincere, he hits every mark. He is only rivaled by Foxx’s quiet yet riveting performance, his best since Collateral. The film also stars Brie Larson as Stevenson’s law partner Eva Ansley. I was mostly impressed with Rob Morgan’s depiction of real-life inmate Herbert Richardson; and, the strong turn from O’Shea Jackson Jr’s portrayal of Anthony Ray Hinton.

A powerful film for yesterday, today and tomorrow. For more information about Bryan Stevenson and the work of Equal Justice Initiative – visit http://www.eji.org.

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