Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx: Robin Hood), Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan: Stranger Things) and Anthony Ray Hinton (O’Shea Jackson Jr.: Godzilla: King of the Monsters) sit around gossiping on a lazy Sunday.
It’s all incredibly normal – except the three men in question are sitting on death row in Alabama.
The news of the day from Walter is that he’s met a new attorney. Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan: Raising Dion), from the Equal Justice Initiative is fresh out of Harvard Law and confident he can bring justice to the notoriously racist criminal justice system of Alabama, starting with Walter, Herbert and Anthony. All three have cases that didn’t warrant the death penalty yet they were tried and convicted based on their race.
It’s a system that’s been running unchallenged for decades, until Stevenson steps up to play the hero. The people of Alabama view him as a deviant, out to release murderers. His clients view him as just another attorney, promising exoneration but failing to deliver.
Stevenson works to uncover shoddy police work and joke trials, but is shocked when he is met with apathy every time.
Can one man change a broken system one case at a time? Or are people too used to an unfair system?
If you’ve ever seen a legal drama, you know the beats of Just Mercy. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle) isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel with this movie. There are racist cops, incompetent prosecutors and a thousand small aggressions to overcome for just one case. Jordan’s character is strip-searched when visiting clients, refused office space and his office manager’s home is threatened.
Following in the footsteps of In the Heat of the Night and Mississippi Burning, Just Mercy features some truly fantastic performances. As Walter, Foxx does some excellent work as a man beaten down by a ludicrously unfair system and trying to come to terms with being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jordan is also exemplary. Stevenson’s forceful optimism in the face of overwhelming odds is never naïve. He sees what he’s facing, and he’s confident there’s a way to fight through it. Part of what drives him is his empathy for men trapped in an unjust system. There’s one long take in particular where Jordan gives a masterclass in close up acting.
If you’re interested in the vast reforms our justice system needs, or just want to see some absolutely terrific acting, Just Mercy is an excellent choice for the weekend.
Good Drama * PG-13 * 136 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Like a Boss
Two best friends (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) think they’ve hit the big time when a mogul (Salma Hayek) offers to fund their makeup company. When they realize she only wanted to steal their ideas, the pair have to decide if their friendship is strong enough to survive some revenge.
A crass comedy, Like a Boss will likely feature slapstick jokes, lots of raunchy set pieces and, perhaps, a plot. Haddish, who made a name for herself being the most outrageous person in the room in Girls Trip, has the chops to pull off crude humor with gusto and charm. It’s a shame that the premise surrounding her character is so thin. The jokes are rote, the supporting performances broad. Haddish has her work cut out for her in elevating this material.
If you love a good genital joke, or just want to watch Tiffany Haddish spin her wheels, Like a Boss should be worth the ticket.
Prospects: Dim * R * 83 mins.
A massive earthquake damages an underwater research facility. Deep below the surface within the rapidly flooding rooms, the crew must escape. But an earthquake isn’t the only danger underwater.
A locked room thriller in an aquatic setting, Underwater is an updated version of The Poseidon Adventure. Though the premise seems rote, the cast is interesting. Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel are both fantastic indie actors who pick interesting projects. If the script tempted them, there may be more to it than a simple aquatic thriller. Since January and February tend to be box office wastelands, keep that in mind before buying a ticket.
Prospects: Flickering * PG-13 * 95 mins.