By Hector Valverde
There’s always that one sad movie that gets left out or forgotten in the cascade of prestigious releases rushing to score Oscar nominations at the end of the year. Despite featuring a great cast and a compelling story, Just Mercy is only a mediocre film that gets left in the dust of other, much better movies.
Just Mercy follows the real-life case of Walter McMillian, a black lumberjack put on death row after being wrongfully accused of killing a white woman. After moving to the Deep South to represent convicts without resources, newly graduated lawyer Bryan Stevenson fights to repeal McMillian’s sentence before his execution.
Michael B. Jordan (Stevenson) and Brie Larson (his assistant Eva) are wasted; they’re given the bare minimum amount of personality to pass as characters despite being billed as a big selling point for the film. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx gives a halfway decent supporting performance as McMillian, but his solid work is mostly lost in a boring, uninspired, blatantly obvious piece of Oscar-bait that seldom bothers to differentiate itself from other similar work.
From its cookie-cutter characters down to its story and general narrative, everything about Just Mercy has already been told dozens of times in significantly more interesting and affecting films; there’s not a lot of moving substance or emotion in its storytelling to compensate. The end stinger paying tribute to the people behind the true story hits harder than anything else preceding it, mostly because the majority of the film goes for the easiest, most overused tropes and emotional appeals in the melodramatic-handbook.
Despite having good intentions and more than solid material to tell a moving, sadly timeless narrative about racial injustice, the film instead comes across as preachy with its forced and lame attempts at greater thematic depth. It’s a shame, too, because writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton has previously proven himself with great work in his two excellent collaborations with Larson, Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle.
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