Bryan Stevenson a graduate of Harvard law school decides that he wants to move to Alabama and work for wrongly convinced prisoners on death row. Searching into the evidence it seems so many of them did not actually commit the crimes they are sentenced to death for.
Walter McMillian known as Johnny D was place on death row for the murder of an eighteen year old white girl, that was even before having a very unfair trial. No hard evidence and the testimony of a murderer who was known to lie. This becomes the big case that Bryan is really focused on as he meets Johnny’s family and friends, realising that he is causing problems in the small town even by asking questions.
Eva Ansley welcomes Bryan to the town and they plan on fighting some of these sentences together, getting justice for those who could not afford a lawyer when on trial, if they were even given the chance or option to have one.
Just Mercy is based on a true story and that is something that you must keep reminding yourself when you are watching it, as the cruel nature and treatment of innocent men is quite frankly both disguising and disturbing. Something I noticed on the screen before the film started in the warning section was “execution scene” it was then easy to realise why this warning was on.
As Bryan gets to know the inmates on death row who he is going to try and work with, Johnny D’s story isn’t the only one which will break your heart. Herbert Richardson fought for his country in Vietnam, went through the tortures of war and not given any support with the trauma he went through. Suffering from PTSD he made some terrible choices and was clearing not mentally in a good place at all. I found his scenes so heartbreaking and then when that execution scene which was the warning at the start it really was brutal to watch. While brutal though it was handled in such a dignified manner I think the film, showing the respect from the inmates as they wanted Herb to know they were with him.
I thought it was important to show this and mentions of some of the other cases to show that the white police didn’t go after the same type of black men, it didn’t matter which they would make sure they were sentenced to crimes that they could not work out. Physical evidence did not matter to them at all. A truly horrific level of racism, something that makes this scary is that it was from 1987, which was the year I was born and then went on into the 90s for this case with so many more like it. I always feel a little bit empty when watching films around this subject matter and the flawed US justice system which has seen so many innocent people put to death and more so innocent black men.
Performances were fantastic with Michael B. Jordan taking on the leading role in a good manner, something which is a different type of role for him and was good to see. Jamie Foxx is an actor that seems to be able to pull anything off and he shows that all over again in this one, breaking your heart and making you smile sometimes at the same time. Rob Morgan was the absolute scene stealer as Hebert though and the most outstanding performance in this film in my opinion. Brie Larson was in a supporting role, but did not really have that much screen time which was a shame.
I always feel very low when watching this type of film and reminded of the radical abuse that cost so many lives. Especially with this one being where To Kill A Mockingbird was written and set, I felt it was very important to highlight that considering that was all about racial prejudice and how it was still very much an issue in that same town and areas. To have the corrupt police mention the museum to Bryan a few times was the perfect way to work that into the narrative of the film.