A powerful and thought-provoking true-story, "Just Mercy" follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan might have had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson.) One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx,) who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds-and the system-stacked against them.Written by
First things first: I love this book, and I love Bryan Stevenson. So I was not walking into this film cold. In fact, I found myself wondering how they could possibly adapt a memoir that transcends many years and cases without becoming a confusing legal mashup with way too much talking. The good news is that the filmmakers brilliantly adapted the story: they zero in on a few key cases and the initial years of the Equal Justice Initiative, which provides a meaningful beginning/middle/end. They also got amazing performances from everyone involved, most notably Jordan and Fox. In short, it works better than I expected. That said, they still fell into the trap of characters providing exposition via dialogue and the story feeling a bit too much like previous legal dramas - earnest young lawyer, suspicious community, triumphant verdict (and some familiar Hollywood approaches to race, as well). Here's the thing, though: this story is actually true. Between that knowledge and the performances, I found myself pretty emotionally impacted, even if there were some flaws. I also got to see the way my 10 year old daughter reacted to the story, which reminded me that we need WAY more stories like this about people who are making the world a better place, one day at a time.
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