Just Mercy is part of the bigger machine, churning to make an impact, rather than forcing it through
There is a rare breed of story that lends itself beautifully to theatrics. Whether that’s a stageplay or a piece of majestically dramatic cinema, these stories are vital to spearheading messages and ideas that need to be heard by the masses, often of genuine extreme importance, on the grandest and most impressionable of scales. Just Mercy details the full account of death row prisoner Walter McMillian and his attorney, young Harvard graduate Bryan Stevenson, as they attempt to clear McMillian’s name for a crime he did not commit. However, whether the courtroom setting lends Just Mercy aptly to a stageplay setting, or whether the larger audience cinema brings in is most important, isn’t entirely clear.
Starting his own firm after leaving Harvard Law School, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) is desperate to help people in need, especially those who cannot supply their own legal assistance to defend themselves. Taking particular interest in Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a death row inmate victim of police corruption and collusion, Bryan dedicates his career to saving an innocent man’s life when he faces death head on.
The enormity of the story does unfortunately outweigh the quality of the picture. As Michael B. Jordan and especially Jamie Foxx fuse to offer a truly imposing tandem, the tension and expression of the unfolding drama doesn’t match their sheer intensity. There’s a clear mandate to hit home on the emotional elements of a terribly wicked story, but Just Mercy doesn’t quite promote them in enough of a real-to-life way.
A film of this nature will always need to tug at the heartstrings; these stories are vital to changing the way many perceive injustices in the world, especially when they are featured on the big screen. But this is a different game to a stageplay, and Just Mercy doesn’t grasp that as a concept. It’s an awful way to think, but, in this case, bigger is better, and the film needed to offer more. Naturally it’s a gripe that only drops it so far from greatness, but it’s a step that absolutely limited some of its true potential impact.
Just Mercy is a stage play, painted onto the big screen. Make it cinematic, and make it expansive, and Foxx and Jordan truly come to life. For now however, Just Mercy is part of the bigger machine, churning to make an impact, rather than forcing it through.
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