Three out of four.
Just Mercy is a heart-pounding and gut-wrenching story with powerful performances that shine a light into the darkened prison cells of our society.
Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) has just graduated from Harvard law school. But instead of getting a cushy job near home, he decides to move south and work for nothing. He accepts a grant-funded position providing legal counsel for death-row inmates -- most of whom are black, like him.
The day he arrives, he meets his coworker Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) and they get to work in Evas home because no one in town will provide office space. The townsfolk view the inmates as criminals, while Bryan and Eva see them as people who need their help.
Bryan gets busy on the case of Walter Johnny D McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was convicted of murdering a white woman and has been sitting on death row ever since. Bryan takes on his case, and the prejudice of the South, offering something Johnny D never had before: hope.
Just Mercy tells a compelling story made more gripping by engaging acting, particularly by Jordan and Foxx, two black men fighting in different ways against an unfair system.
Jordans Bryan goes to the South not knowing the full extent of whats hes getting into. As he works to assist Johnny D, he is met with resistance by the very people who are there to uphold the law: sheriffs, attorneys and judges. He grapples with racism against himself and others and witnesses the horror of the electric chair.
Bryan sees all this from outside a jail cell and continues to press forward.
Meanwhile, Johnny D is stuck on the inside, dealing with the emotions of being an unfairly imprisoned man on death row. He maintains his innocence but, other than Bryan, the people who could free him dont seem to care. He is believed to be guilty based on his race more than anything.
Both Jordan and Foxx give powerfully emotional performances. Theyre complemented by a stellar supporting cast member in Larson. She offers steady support and understanding for Bryan, even though, as a white woman, she cant fully understand Byrans experience with racism. Other inmates, played by Tim Blake Nelson and Rob Morgan, add to the humanity of the situation.
While some of the films plot gets lost in legal jargon, eventually the buildup of the courtroom drama takes audiences to the edge of their seats.
Just Mercy, though a true story, has jarring parallels to famous fictional Alabama courtroom battle. Johnny Ds fight for justice unfolds in Monroeville, Ala., home of author Harper Lee and the basis of her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird -- a fact Bryan repeatedly hears as he navigates the towns judicial system. Perhaps most shocking is that Just Mercy doesnt take place in the upheaval of the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 60s, but in the mid-80s to early 90s. That such an injustice could take place in our modern day is shocking and hard to watch, at least for viewers who havent experienced it firsthand.
In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch says that, You can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Watching Just Mercy lets viewers do that -- and its an unforgettable journey.