At the Chicago International Film Festival, the American movie Just Mercy made its first US debut. It is set to be released in theatres on Christmas Day this year, so it was exciting to be able to view it before the general public. The movie is based on the true story of Walter McMillian, who was wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of Ronda Morrison, who was an 18-year-old resident of McMillian’s town, Monroeville, Alabama. McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx in the film) was framed by police and was given the death penalty without access to a fair trial, and had no success with appeals until Bryan Stevenson (played in the film by Michael B. Jordan), who began the Equal Justice Initiative, continually defended his client, eventually leading to an exoneration of the charges. Stevenson later wrote a memoir, also titled Just Mercy, which led to the creation of the movie.
Contextually, I would say this movie was one of the best I have ever seen. Chris McGee, a student at Greenville University, agrees. “The movie Just Mercy was a great movie to watch from the start to the finish,” McGee said. The story stands on its own in terms of keeping the audience’s attention and creating empathy for the characters – everyone knows how terrible the history of racism in the Deep South is, and will feel just how hard it was for the protagonist with or without good storytelling. That being said, the film told the story in a way that drew the audience in so that you had an emotional experience in response to what the characters were experiencing. It roused emotion in all the moviegoers present, which was able to create a sense of unity against the common evil of racism.
The writers and directors of Just Mercy did a good job with pacing, and they were also able to add enough interpersonal connections to drive the story so that the viewer wasn’t constantly feeling down. Stevenson’s office manager (played by Brie Larson) was just as witty as she was caring, and Stevenson’s ability to relate to and joke around with his clients snuck joy into scenarios that would normally be seen as very bleak, which I believe they used to show just how resilient people can be. Prior to viewing the movie, I had no knowledge of the story other than what information was given in the previews, so I was unsure if it would be a happy or sad ending, which kept me on the edge of my seat the entire film. There really weren’t any giveaways as to how it would end, which is something that I think movies normally struggle with. Even with fictional storylines, I can usually figure out how it will end, so I liked that even though this one was true I was still pleasantly surprised by the ending.
As for technical aspects, it was a feature film, so the quality was of the highest caliber. They set the white balance to a warmer tone, which was likely chosen to portray both that the film was set in the South, which has a warmer climate, but also that it was set in a past date (the late ’80s to early ’90s). They included a variety of interesting shots to direct the viewer’s eyes, as well as a few really difficult shots. A shot that was very impressive was one where Stevenson was in a room of McMillian’s friends and family, and they included a wide variety of viewpoints, but the most interesting was when it was from Stevenson’s perspective, so you were able to see the faces of all the others in the room really well.
Overall, this was one of the best films I’ve seen. Not only was it a great storyline, but it was also very well made. They chose a captivating plotline, one that many may not know about or remember, and they executed it very well. Check out the trailer below, and see Just Mercy in theatres starting Christmas Day.