Just Mercy (2019)

Just Mercy (2019)

Just Mercy posterDirected by: Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson. Runtime: 2h 17 min. Released: December 25, 2019 (limited).

(This review contains spoilers.)

A well-acted true story, Just Mercy is about world renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) as he starts a company, Equal Justice Initiative, defending the wrongfully convicted. His first case is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a death row inmate falsely accused of killing a young woman in Monroeville, Alabama.

These wrongfully accused stories are one of my favourite sub-genres in film, so I have been excited for this one for awhile and it doesn’t disappoint. Michael B. Jordan is strong as Stevens and it’s fascinating learning why the character’s fighting for these characters. Jordan brings a strong presence to the character, though he gets outshined by Jamie Foxx as McMillian who has to trust that another lawyer won’t screw him over like the Alabama justice system has. When Stevens is different than most lawyers and legitimately cares about the case, it creates a charming chemistry because of Stevens’ compassion.

Much of the injustice here is the racism and how everyone in the community accepted McMillian did it because of some rumours in the town of Monroeville. The smartest observation in the screenplay (by director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham, based on the book by Bryan Stevenson) is that since the crime took place in Monroeville, multiple characters including new district attorney Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall), reference their pride that their town is Harper Lee’s hometown, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The irony is brilliant that they’re so proud that an author from their town wrote such a classic piece of literature – about a black man falsely accused of rape as a white lawyer defends him – that they’re unaware they’re just being as racist and prejudiced as the characters in the novel.

The depiction of some of the prejudice feels stereotypical, as some just feel like cartoonish racists, mainly on two occasions where Stevens is pulled over by police for no apparent reason (this scene is tense), as well as a group of men angry that one of their “own” is working with Stevens.

That is Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), the Operations Director of the company. This aspect of the film is interesting as she is judged the most harshly for aligning herself with an outsider who is trying to get a man off death row. Larson has some strong moments in the film and adds to the well-rounded cast. A charming part about this film is the sense of community it creates between its characters.

Just Mercy Foxx
Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy. (IMDb)

One of the reasons I like these kinds of films so much is because the lawyer research feels like detective work as Stevens goes through the case and sees the many things that the original lawyers missed or didn’t even bother to look at. I just like it when the case breaks and everything just clicks, and it feels like the highs of a sports movie in that way. The lawyer work is great as Stevens learns surprising things on that journey, and Tim Blake Nelson is strong as an integral character, too. I like the layers to his character, and he helps show that the true antagonist in Just Mercy is Monroeville’s justice system.

The main storyline is compelling and well-paced at 137 minutes. A main sub-plot with a character called Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) is great, too. Morgan is fascinating as a death row inmate and ex-veteran dealing with severe PTSD who has to cope with his actions.

Also making an appearance in the film is O’Shea Jackson as Anthony Ray Hinton. This character feels out-of-place because there’s no interaction between him and Stevenson, but he’s accurate to the real-life story as one of Walter and Herbert’s cellmates. I imagine some of his scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor for pacing, as his story is relevant enough to have added another 30 minutes to the film. It’s smart for pacing to sideline him, but it feels like a waste for the character and the actor’s talents.

Despite that fault, it’s still an emotionally compelling film with some engaging courtroom drama, as well as a handful of heartbreaking scenes. Both these characters truly give perspective into how many inmates need the help of Bryan Stevenson and the film is generally an important story showing the importance of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Score: 80/100

Holes

Holes

Release Date: April 18, 2003

Director: Andrew Davis

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver

Runtime: 117 min

Tagline: The adventure is down there… start digging April 18.

 

It’s a nice and unpredictable children’s flick that even adults can enjoy.

Stanley Yelnats the Fourth (Shia LaBeouf) is a poor young teenager who has a pretty unique family. The Yelnats family has been blaming their no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather for years, who brought a curse upon their family a while ago. Stanley hasn’t exactly always had the best of fortunes, and his bad luck is just beginning. After a pair of stolen shoes, belonging to a former speedy baseball player called Clyde ‘Sweetfeet’ Livingston, fall on his head from walking home one day; he gets sent to a juvenile detention camp called Camp Green Lake. The Camp doesn’t really have a lake at all, and the runners of the camp believe that digging holes everyday in the hot sun will strengthen the campers’ character. Stanley builds strong friendships along the way, and must solve a several year-long mystery of why they are actually digging there.

The characters are really good and the cast bring something great to the table, sometimes the screenplay feels a bit messy, but it all works pretty well together.

There are a few reasons why the film doesn’t work as well as the novel; there are just so many subplots that it can make the film pretty crowded. The subplots really are all interesting, so it isn’t a total loss. In the book, it is obviously divided by chapters so it is much easier to follow.

Some of the subplots include: how Stanley’s no-good (well you get the idea!) great-grandfather came to put a curse on his family; the story of Kissin’ Kate Barlow; and how actual Green Lake used to be a town and how it looked before the lake turned into desert. They are quite interesting and they all very much relate to each other in the end.

There is some comedy, adventure, drama and mystery all mixed in here. There are some solid characters, like Stanley who just wants to fit in as the new kid – and soon assumes the nickname of ‘Caveman’. Zero is also a great character, a seemingly quiet and troubled character who can really talk once he’s interested. All the characters add something nice to the film, even if you don’t really like them – they’re charismatic either way.

Both the adult actors (like Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson) and the younger actors each act their parts very well. Voight plays Mr. Sir (whose real name is Marian), who is very irritable after quitting smoking, and is pretty-trigger happy with those CGI yellow spotted lizards (“If you get bitten by a rattlesnake, you won’t die, usually. But if you get bitten by a yellow spotted lizards, you will die, a slow and painful death…always,” my favorite monologue of the character). Weaver plays the lazy Warden, who hogs all the damn shade on the whole camp. Nelson plays Dr. Pendanski, the pretty stupid doctor of the camp.

Patricia Arquette also performs her role well as Miss Kathryn.

The film stars Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Blake Nelson, Khleo Thomas, Bryon Cotton, Henry Winkler, Siobhan Fallon and Patricia Arquette.

Something I found pretty interesting: Richard Kelly originally wrote an extremely dark and violent post-apocalyptic version of the story which proved much too mature for a children’s audience. Louis Sachar, also the writer of the novel, wrote a screenplay as well and the studio chose that one in favor of his over Kelly’s.

There’s also a really good book sequel to this, called Small Steps that’s a spin-off [of the first book] depicting Armpit’s life outside of Green Lake, and how he’s trying to merge back into society, befriending a mentally disabled (I believe she was epileptic) young girl on his street. Though, of course, a character from his life at Green Lake has to come and screw it all up with a business scheme, and who better than X-Ray to do the trick? Hey, Sachar, I’m still waiting on the movie! I say hopefully…

Holes offers a great and unpredictable experience. Adults can enjoy it, too, as well as kids and it is completely durable and sometimes comedic. The film can be pretty messy in some areas, but it makes up for it in the charm of it all. It’s a childhood favorite of mine and I still enjoy it to this day. It can get a little lengthy, but it doesn’t drag on too much. The cast do an incredible job, and there is a great music video at the end. The film is just really well done. It hasn’t been worn out yet after a large amount of views.

     88/100