Reviewed by Nesha Pany
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this civil rights docudrama is based on Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the same title, Just Mercy. This 2019 film conveys a potent message which seems timely in just about any part of the world with questionable justice system, while it raises questions on the American criminal justice system revolving around capital punishment, systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality.
The film starts off in 1987, in Alabama where McMillan also known as Johnny D (played by Jamie Foxx) is arrested for a murder he did not commit. He becomes a target for the local authorities as he is seen a threat to the prevailing racial hierarchies for being economically independent and for his illicit affair with a white woman. While this highlights the miscarriage of justice that is based on racism and prejudice, it also tackles the lingering legacies of slavery and the Jim Crow epoch- bringing the narrative of racial differences to the fore.
The main character, Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan sets out on a mission to defend disadvantaged death row inmates – a calling he discovers during his internship as a Harvard law student. The fact that the state of Alabama does not have a public defender system, leading to legal underrepresentation of those who have been convicted, further pushes him this way.
Stevenson along with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) open a nonprofit law center, dedicated to providing free legal services to those on death row in Alabama. Despite resistance from the locals, the duo’s tenacity keeps them up to fight the cause, providing the suspenseful and interesting moments in the movie.
As the movie goes on, what is put on view is the humiliation experienced by these wrongfully convicted inmates, ripping off their every bit of self dignity and rights. These events and surrounding hostility not only break the individuals, but also disrupt their families and communities. What is portrayed is the making of an unsafe and debilitating environment that shows greater marginalisation. The irony is the “superior” community, that insist on imposing the discrimination, takes pride for its famous town writer, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mocking Bird – an award winning modern literature about racism.
Just Mercy is impactful and has a strong sense of purpose. The depth of the film does not only evoke emotions like anger and frustration, it also gives rise to the power of hope. Often, we turn a blind eye to social issues like these simply because it does not concern us but what Stevenson promotes through this movie and his work is that by defining and understanding the problem is how societies can collectively work on making the shift for the betterment of everyone.
For those in the pursuit of justice and advocacy, the movie is an inspiration.
Just Mercy is currently streaming on Netflix in Malaysia.
Check out the official trailer here: