“Just Mercy” is a powerful and thought-provoking film depicting the struggle of being African American in the south as recently as the 1990s.
Based on a true story, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), a recent African American Harvard Law grad, decides to move from Delaware to Alabama to represent black Death Row inmates for free who were not properly represented during their original trials. Walter “Johnee Dee” McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is one of said inmates.
Johnee Dee was convicted of the murder of an 18-year-old white girl in dry cleaners in broad day light and sentenced to death. The only evidence presented against him is a singular testimony from a convicted felon saying he was kidnapped at gunpoint by Johnee and forced to drive to the dry cleaner, wait in the car (while waiting in the car he drove to the store and bought a pack of cigarettes and then came back to his kidnapper), and came into the cleaners to see Johnee Dee standing over the dead girl with a gun in the front of the store.
There are a few obvious problems with this case, all of which cause controversy and uproar. The body was found in the back of the store instead of where the witness stated, Johnee’s car was having work done on it the morning of the murder, and Johnee was at a fish fry with over 20 people at the time of the murder. Despite this evidence, the prosecution did enough to convince the all-white jury of Johnee Dee’s guilt.
What makes this film so powerful is how the information about the case was presented to the audience. You don’t realize how egregious the treatment of the inmates and African Americans in general is. Despite this film occurring during the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is shocking how institutionally, racially, and thoroughly the law enforcement ignores the law and justice in favor of discrimination and hate. One of the men who is friends with Johnee Dee on death row was only arrested even though the officers knew he was innocent and told him, “Think of it as taking one for your homies.”
The time period of this case, which is based on a true story that occurred only a few decades ago, was jarring. The movie “The Breakfast Club” had already hit theaters by the time Johnee Dee was arrested. The police and prosecution unjustly persecuted him because he was caught cheating on his wife with a white woman. The police forced a white felon to frame a black man for a horrific murder because he was having an interracial affair. I never realized how truly problematic to this day the institutional problems are with the police. This film made me think more than any movie I’ve seen in a while.
From a cinematic perspective, this movie was dynamite. Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx were so wonderful that it was enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eyes. The cast as a whole put in moving performances making for a fully immersive experience.
The only real shortcoming of the movie was that it felt as though it was going to end for about the last 30 minutes. If you asked one of the writers, I am sure they would tell you that it was a device used to show how truly endless Johnee Dee’s odyssey for justice was — however, it felt long winded. Overall, “Just Mercy” was a fantastic movie everyone should see.