- by Jeff Beck
Just Mercy: A Real-Life Story Becomes an Overly-Familiar Procedural (Blu-ray)
Up until recently, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton's filmmaking career has been rather "under the radar." After a decade of making shorts, he made his first feature "I Am Not a Hipster" in 2012, which was not very well received. However, his very next feature, "Short Term 12," based on one of his shorts, met with glowing acclaim and made everyone take notice. Despite following this up with another project ("The Glass Castle") that received about the same reception as his first, he soldiered forward with his latest film, "Just Mercy," in an effort to tell an important story of injustice. His heart was certainly in the right place in wanting to put this tale to film, but with the story of an innocent person behind bars having been done a million times before, would Cretton be able to make his stand out, or would it merely be another entry lost among the crowd?
Starting in 1986, we witness the arrest of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who is convicted of the murder of Ronda Morrison. Flash forward to 1989, where we meet Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard grad who comes to Alabama to help get proper legal help for those who can't afford it. After establishing the Equal Justice Initiative with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), he meets with death row inmates to see if he can offer his services, eventually convincing Walter that he might be able to help. Bryan investigates the case, discovering that the testimony that put Walter away came from a convicted felon, whose story doesn't quite add up. With this crucial discovery, Bryan begins a brave quest to right an injustice and clear an innocent man's name.
"Just Mercy" is an admirable attempt to tell the powerful story of a wrongfully convicted man who was forced to spend years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, featuring fine work from its trio of fantastic stars. Michael B. Jordan, who has continued to show us his incredible talent in films like "Creed" and "Black Panther," does justice to the real-life Bryan Stevenson by imbuing his characterization with passion, determination, and perseverance. Meanwhile, Oscar winners Jamie Foxx, who received an unexpected SAG nomination for his work here, and Brie Larson both turn in strong performances, all three of which go a long way towards giving the film the emotional impact it wants to achieve.
Unfortunately however, the execution of the film is something of a different matter. It is indeed a very important story, one very much worth telling, but Cretton's film tells it in such a by-the-numbers manner that it ends up losing a lot of the impact that it attempts to have. When all is said and done, there really isn't very much to set it apart from the multitudes of other films just like it, whether based on true stories or not. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but with the approach that Cretton and co-author Andrew Lanham take, you basically just sit back and wait for the procedural to take its course, resulting in the inevitable conclusion.
What we end up with is a very low-key legal drama that isn't likely to stick around it your memory very long. The performances are quite strong, and turn out to be the highlight of the film, but with its systematic approach to the story, they're ultimately the one main element that stands out. Could it have been told in a better fashion, one that doesn't have it unfolding in such a straightforward, predictable manner? That's a point that's definitely up for debate, but as it is, "Just Mercy" just doesn't do enough in regards to telling its overly-familiar tale.
"Just Mercy" comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The image is smooth and sharp throughout the film's 137-minute duration, while the Dolby Atmos audio provides all of the dialogue and score in outstanding condition. Overall, while there may not be anything fancy to this low-key legal drama, Warner Bros. has still done an incredible job with its treatment for its home release.
Making Mercy (4 Minutes): A very brief featurette featuring interviews in which the cast and crew discuss their experiences making the film.
The Equal Justice Initiative (8 Minutes): A featurette all about the EJI.
This Moment Deserves (6 Minutes): A featurette in which the cast and crew discuss the importance of telling this story.
Deleted Scenes (15 Minutes): A collection of eight deleted sequences.
Destin Daniel Cretton's "Just Mercy" features a trio of fine performances from its excellent cast, but thanks to a very by-the-numbers approach to its overly-familiar story, this attempt to tell the real-life tale of the quest to free an innocent man on death row ends up being a rather standard and forgettable procedural. That's not to say that it's a bad film, you'll just ultimately wish that there was a little more that stood out from the usual cliched elements.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.