Just Mercy (PG-13)
Fine performances by Michael B. Jordan as Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter “JD” McMillan do not alter the fact that this film is sadly predictable. It depicts events from the ‘80s and ‘90s that fit a familiar pattern, and there is nothing particularly notable about McMillan’s innocence to make this film any different from other accounts of racial injustice from the South during the period.
It is extremely regrettable that a young Harvard lawyer had to go to Alabama to reverse death penalty verdicts, but the fact is that Stevenson did go down South to do exactly that. His mother in Delaware warns him, “If you don’t know what could happen to you down there, you should ask Harvard for your money back.”
In Alabama Stevenson meets a young woman, Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), who happens to be consumed by the same injustices that brought Bryan to the South. She is the managing director of the fledgling Equal Justice Initiative, and he is the executive director. Stevenson takes up two cases immediately in the film.
Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) is a vet with PTSD who killed a girl, not knowing that he did so and regretting it very much. His diagnosis makes no difference, and he is Stevenson’s first and damaging loss.
Next, he takes on McMillan, even though JD McMillan does not trust him; he has been through several lawyers, all of whom quit on him. What follows is a parade of injustice: a lying chief witness, corrupt police who conspired with the DA to hide evidence—the usual litany of racial abuses that Justice had inflicted upon her. Through solid lawyering and persistence, Stevenson gets the case to the Alabama Supreme Court and the expected ending.
All of the characters represent real people, most of whom are apparently still alive, and portrayals seem honest. But the story, as sad as it is, has been told so many times before that the inherent drama of this one is ruined by fulfilled expectations.