Just Mercy Movie Review
The first 20 minutes of Just Mercy will elicit the kind of anger in you that director Destin Daniel Cretton intended; the remaining two hours will leave you asking for mercy.
The problem with Just Mercy is that it isn’t bad; it simply isn’t very good. Passionless, overlong long, and unimaginative, the movie is based on the book by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who chooses to apply his Harvard education to help poor black men sentenced to death based on questionable if sometimes nonexistent evidence.
Stevenson is played by Michael B. Jordan, a terrific actor who unfortunately, like much of the rest of the case, doesn’t seem very inspired to elevate the material. Jordan is a bit of a bore to watch, while Jamie Foxx, who plays convicted felon Walter McMillian, isn’t given much to do.
Strike that—he’s given a lot more to do than Brie Larson, the star of Cretton’s last two directorial features (the terrific Short Term 12 and the underwhelming The Glass Castle). Larson gets one of the most thankless roles of her career, an instantly forgettable character given a few minutes of wasted screen time.
Just Mercy plods along like a dozen other similar legal dramas, never dull but rarely, if ever, sensational. The movie is about systematic racial injustice and how the death penalty is still used as a form of lynching, but it’s a theme that has been delivered better elsewhere with more emotion and spark. While I don’t believe you need a black director to accomplish such a feat, Cretton certainly doesn’t tap into the raw nerve other filmmakers have been able to in recent years.
The case itself is generally uninteresting; the outcome is understandably predictable, but even the efforts to spice it up for the big screen largely fall flat. The climax is especially disastrous, the outcome so awkwardly delivered and without gusto that it’s amazing this was the best take Cretton, who also co-wrote the film, could come up with.
Just Mercy starts off strong, but the movie, at an unnecessarily long two hours and fifteen minutes, slowly deteriorates in quality until, by the end, you just don’t care. Never terrible but sadly never inspiring, this is a weak entry for everyone involved.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.