Based on true events, Just Mercy tells the story of Walter “Johnny D” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Ronda Morrison and sentenced to death in Alabama. Adapted from the book by Johnny D’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), Just Mercy is a hard-hitting look at racism in Alabama in recent decades, and the reality of a corrupt justice system.
Set in Monroeville, Alabama, the birthplace of author Harper Lee, the film makes multiple references to Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a fictional yet soberingly accurate comparison to some of the events that took place in Just Mercy. If you’ve seen To Kill a Mockingbird, the scene in Just Mercy where all people of colour are standing at the back of the courtroom will give you a chilling flashback.
Bryan Stevenson moved to Alabama to begin the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization providing legal services to prisoners who could not afford a proper representative, who were not granted a fair trial, or who were likely wrongly convicted.
The case against Johnny D was based on very little evidence, including a fabricated testimony of a fellow inmate. It was clear that he was targeted based on race and class. Johnny D had also been unfaithful to his wife with a Caucasian woman, and this news had travelled around town.
When Bryan first met with Johnny D to reopen his case, it was clear that Johnny D was broken and had lost hope. He didn’t want to feel the pain or put his family through it again. With every turn, it seemed as though there were more road blocks that they had to face. People were intentionally trying to sabotage the appeal despite knowing that there was no real case against Johnny D.
Just Mercy is yet another look into how the justice system does not always provide justice, and how people who serve time in prison often come out worse then when they went in. Johnny D developed dementia later in his life which was thought to be the result of his time in prison and the trauma of what he went through. In addition, the film also brings up the moral debate about the death penalty. On a human level it was very difficult to watch the emotional trauma these men experienced as they sat and waited to be killed.
I have never heard so many sniffles or deep breathes in a theatre as I did during Just Mercy. This film is real and powerful. What’s more, knockout performances by stars Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, and Tim Blake Nelson, do not be surprised if you hear some–if not all–of these names as award season approaches.
Just Mercy begins its wide release on December 25th, 2019.