Whatever you did, your life is still meaningful.
Title: Just Mercy Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 137 mins With: HS kids
Did they read the book? No. No they did not.
What's it about? Hate. Love? Honestly, I'm not sure. Either way Just Mercy tells the incredibly inspirational (and real-life) tale of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson, a recent Harvard graduate who moves to the south in an attempt to overturn wrongful convictions for inmates on death row. Though Stevenson will have many clients throughout his career, the film focuses primarily on the case of Walter McMillan, a black man set to be executed for murdering a young white woman in Monroeville, Alabama (home of Harper Lee, of all people).
What works: While the story captivates (and devastates) on its own, the performances elevate the film to something beyond special. Jordan captures the quiet power of Stevenson with expert precision, while Foxx disappears into the Walter's angry hopelessness. The supporting performances are equally stellar, with Brie Larson killing it as Stevenson's bad-ass operations manager, Eva Ansley, and my guy Tim Blake Nelson imbuing real-life low-life Ralph Myers with a shocking level of humanity.
What doesn't: Well, um, everything, right? At least in terms of the criminal justice system in the south. Seemingly racist by design, everything we're privy to about the judicial process (if you can call it that) and death row is appalling. Lives are thrown away and communities are destroyed, and many people don't give it a second thought. And just when you think any aspect of progress is being made, it isn't. This story is two hours of heartbreak, start to finish.
Yays: The few scenes we get with Walter's family are great, and occasionally provide some well-needed levity. As does that lady in the Public Records/Evidence department (she might have been my favorite person in the whole film). 60 Minutes comes up clutch, as the court of public opinion loves Ed Bradley and his ticking...timer?...a lot. The brotherhood of the guys on death row is dope, as these dudes aren't as alone as they might think they are. While there are a few instances where things feel a bit...oversimplified, perhaps?, I applaud the lack of tidiness this film is swathed in. Sometimes, 'race' movies lose something along the way because certain aspects get glossed over, and people and situations are boiled down to good or bad. But here? Everybody is a real person, and real people? They are many things at once. And finally, in preparation for the film, I watched a few interviews with the real Bryan Stevenson, and he is nothing short of amazing. Jordan does a great job portraying him, as I mentioned, but do yourself a favor and spend some time with the real deal. The guy is incredible.
Boos: Alabama. Oh, should I go on? The idea that a judge can overrule a life-sentence baffles me. Why is this a thing? Speaking of infuriating bullsh-t, why did they have to strip search Bryan? Oh, I know why, but I still couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that that actually happened. The DA is in a tough spot, and I could appreciate it, but he was a little too buddy-buddy with the sheriff, right? Seems like a conflict of interest to me. Well, it might not reach the heights (feels like the wrong word) of the execution scene in The Green Mile, what we get here is still a fairly sizable knife to the heart (a couple of kids cried in my fourth period class). Who the Hell pulls over a lawyer like that? I can't imagine the cops would be that stupid. And racist. And finally, what are we doing? Like, how are we willing to execute people when the system is so flawed? “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. The real question of capital punishment in this country is not do they deserve to die, but do we deserve to kill?"
Are we watching another movie this year? Oh, you bet your ass we are. Moving to a high school with six weeks to go in the year, teaching a course I know nothing about, that was me choosing chaos. Pressing play on a movie that might chill the room? That's me choosing peace.