Just Mercy [TIFF19 Review]

Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Oscar bait films are something we know, something that we have seen grow in number years after years. But that doesn’t always mean that they are bad, sometimes they actually are good. They just don’t try and change the norm. For me, Just Mercy falls into a category. A film packaged for the Oscar that hits hard but also doesn’t try and change anything in the way it tells its story. But the truth is that I was a mess after Just Mercy while I can see how it fails to innovate, it did hit me so hard that I was hiding in my shirt to try and to be loud. You know how it will end, just like any other courtroom movies of the sort, but you can’t help to get sucked into the story.

Hailing from Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), Just Mercy reunites him with collaborator Brie Larson (Marvel’s Captain Marvel, Room) and boost terrific performances from Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Jaime Foxx (Ray, Django Unchained). Telling the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Jordan), a Harvard graduate lawyer, who moves to Alabama to help death row prisoner. There he meets Walter McMillan (Foxx), an innocent man sentenced to death, and he starts a fight to prove his innocence with the help of Eva Ansley (Larson), a local woman who fights for prisoners’ rights.

When it comes to the acting, it’s hard to faults Just Mercy. Strong performances hold the film up and elevate the final product. Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he is a movie star, giving a performance that anchors the film. While Jordan shines, Larson takes a back seat and does the best with the small role she has. But the true star of the film, the one who steals it from Jordan, is Jaime Foxx. Giving his performance since Ray, Foxx proves that he is still one of the best actors working in Hollywood. He does have most of the emotional scenes, but he never overplays his hand. Giving a nuanced and layered performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if Foxx is one the frontrunners come awards season, wouldn’t even be surprised if he walks away with another statuette after the Oscars.

Courtroom dramas are pretty straightforward and maybe that’s the weak part of the film. Because it doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, it falls into the trope that we all know. But the thing is that Just Mercy doesn’t need to add something to the genre because it simply works, and that’s mostly thanks to the work of the man behind the true story. While it’s a shame that Cretton doesn’t seem to be able to put his own stamp on the genre, the effectiveness of the film at telling the story it wants to tell makes it okay. Just when you stop crying, you are right back at crying. It might not feel new but because of the subject matter, it feels important. What Stevenson did was so monumental and important that his story will always be extraordinary, even when it’s told in such a simplistic way, it still feels that way.

Just Mercy won’t change the game when it comes to courtroom drama but maybe that’s not the point of the film. It’s a film that will be important in the future, about a subject that we don’t talk about enough. Just like the man whose story inspired the film, Just Mercy brings his legacy to the forefront and breaks your heart over and over again before letting you breathe and putting it back together. Expect it to hear the name once the award season comes around.