Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy will leave you shocked and outraged, the powerful tale of a judicial system determined that a black man should die, no matter how overwhelming the evidence that he simply didn’t commit the murder he was convicted of. The real horror of the film is that it is based on a true story, a story which spawned a legal outfit which even now is still saving the innocent from death row, thanks to the brilliance, compassion and perseverance of its founder Bryan Stevenson, superbly played by Michael B Jordan.
In truth, the film loses something in an opening hour which is frankly plodding at time. Of course, the real power comes from the slow burn, but to start with it’s barely luke warm.
However, the grimmest of execution scenes (how on earth can this film be a 12a? Simply ludicrous) galvanises everything for a second half which grips utterly and disturbingly.
Stevenson appoints himself to save Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) from the death chamber. His near tragedy is that McMillian is so convinced that his efforts will be fruitless that he initially dismisses him.
But Stevenson is undeterred, rooting out the dodgy supposed witness on which the entire prosecution was built. The murder was one that rightly outraged; the forces of the law simply had to convict someone; they deliberately convicted anyone.
And now their reputation hangs on fighting all efforts to overturn the conviction or even to stay the execution.
Foxx gives an award-worthy performance as an innocent man resigned to his fate and then offered hope; Jordan’s Stevenson is excellent in his dogged pursuit of justice. The bond between the two men is beautifully done.
Impressive too is Rafe Spall as the slimy District Attorney Tommy Champan, a man defending the most indefensible of convictions and knowing just how corrupt the prosecution has been. The details are appalling. It is sickening that this can all have happened so relatively recently – and, who knows, might just be happening still.
The tension is whether Champan will crack. And (don’t spoil it by looking it all up beforehand), in the second half that tension is huge. An important, shocking film.