Just Mercy isn’t what you would call groundbreaking — you’ve seen this kind of legal drama before, many times over. But the hard truths about racial injustice in its fact-based storytelling come through loud and clear, thanks to stellar performances from Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.
Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, a young man fresh out of Harvard law who, in 1989, decides to start an Equal Justice Initiative in Monroe County, Alabama, to take on the lost-cause cases of inmates on death row. Such a client is Walter McMillian (Foxx), a.k.a. Johnny D, a small-town lumber-company owner who is framed for the murder of a teenage white girl. As a result of deep-grained racism and two ineffective previous attorneys, McMillan is reluctant to accept Stevenson’s no-fee offer to have another crack at his case. In the compelling true-life legal drama that director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) and co-writer Andrew Lanham have adapted from Stevenson’s 2014 memoir, it’s lost on no one that the crying need to fight for civil rights hasn’t diminished in the three decades that Stevenson’s organization has successfully challenged the death row convictions of more than 125 inmates. No wonder that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called Stevenson “America’s Mandela.”