This is the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), a defense lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative to fight for prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted but lack access to legal support. It focuses on the case of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), who was falsely accused of murdering a young girl in Alabama based on the testimony of a single unreliable witness, and sentenced to death.
Just Mercy is not a revolutionary courtroom drama, adhering to many of the familiar processes and procedures, inspirational speeches at key moments and last minute changes of heart from key people that we’ve seen before. But it is exceptionally well made. This is in no small part due to the performances from Jordan, Foxx and an excellent supporting cast who lend the film a cast-iron authenticity.
It’s fairly subdued in tone, but this only serves to make the occasional moments of heightened drama and brutality more impactful. While McMillan’s case was racially tinged, with a large number of reliable black witnesses being excluded from the case, Stevenson himself faces racial bigotry in the simple act of trying to get to the truth.
It captures not just the impact on McMillan but on his family, and the agony of spending an extended period on death row, never knowing that your time may be nearly up. This adds up to a gripping, superbly made and acutely political tale about the injustices of the death penalty and a two-tier legal system.