Column: Review Of ‘Just Mercy’ Movie

February 5, 2020

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

The movie Just Mercy, an inspiring story about a real hero, began screening at Speciality Cinema this past weekend. That transformational figure – Bryan Stevenson – was described by Desmond Tutu as “America’s Nelson Mandela.”

The movie’s Executive Producer, Michael B. Jordon of Black Panther fame, included two Academy Award winners in the cast: Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. That said, the quality of the acting in Just Mercy is commendable down the line.

The script is based on Stevenson’s autobiography Just Mercy, which is currently #1 on the New York Times paper-book list.

Raised in rural Delaware in the 1960s, in spite of limited resources, Bryan thrived. He attributes his passion for learning to his grandmother whose father, incredibly, learned to read under slavery.

Trailer for Just Mercy

Stevenson received a scholarship to Harvard Law School, where he eventually flourished. He initially questioned his purpose. However, while student-shadowing at the Southern Center for Human Rights, his mentors had to cancel a visit to a death row inmate and asked Bryan to inform the prisoner that any execution would be held off for 18 months.

Bryan reluctantly traveled alone to the remote facility to meet this obviously stressed prisoner. After failing to break the ice, young Stevenson blurted out the message. The relief that resulted for the prisoner – who feared that his time was up – led to an engaging connection that led to Bryan’s transformation. He committed to address the legacy of segregation, implicit in the criminal justice system, focusing on Alabama.

Turning down big offers following graduation, Bryan sets his goal to make a difference for those on society’s fringes. The movie audience is taken on a gripping journey with this super hero and his Robin, who happens to be a white mother; a salty local activist – a yang to his yin.

In addressing Alabama’s notorious death row, the movie then focuses on the case of Johnny D; a rugged father of three who runs his own tree-felling business. He had an affair with a white woman, in the home-town of the author of To Kill A Mockingbird [truth outpacing fiction].

Jamie Foxx’s superb job depicting Johnny D leads the audience to understand that the case convicting this human in all his complexity had more holes than a fish net. He had been put on death row even before the conviction, serving as a pivotal figure for fellow inmates.

The cinematographer reminds us that great pressure produces diamonds. Those at the bottom of the barrel demonstrate their ability to be tough and tender.

Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson ably convinces the whole family and friends of the twice-bitten Johnny D to support a challenge to the conviction. After many twists and turns things look like they are turning around. But wait; the solid case built by the courageous barrister is undermined by the legacy. You can see the movie to find out how it unfolds; I laughed and cried.

The story accesses America’s history of race and class, way ahead in world incarceration rates. There are reminders for the rest of the world, including Bermuda. It also speaks to how injustice adversely affects a whole society, notwithstanding the resilience of the human spirit.

The movie’s conclusion recounts how Johnny D and Bryan were able to leverage their shared story, amongst others, from the backwaters of Alabama. They call on America – and all of us – to remember that moving forward, everyone can make a difference.

- Glenn Fubler


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