[MOVIE REVIEW] Just Mercy might change opinions about criminal justice

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Photo Illustration: Johnna Melk-Johnson

The film show history with some accuracy, using archive photos from the trial (left) to capture the spirit of real interactions in the film (right)

Based on the ground-breaking book and true story by Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy is a must-see movie for everyone who wants to make sure the criminal justice system is putting true criminals behind bars. The movie follows the story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), an African-American man who was wrongly convicted, in the face of overwhelming evidence that would exonerate him, of murdering a young white woman. Sent directly to death row even before his trial, Walter McMillian has all but given up hope for justice when his case is taken up by Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a young attorney just out of Harvard Law School. Facing racial discrimination at every turn, Stevenson is convinced of Walter McMillian’s innocence and is determined to get his death sentence overturned. Just Mercy is a motivating film because of the frustrating racial injustice as well as the determination expressed by the characters.

The movie brings the viewer into the action almost immediately when Walter is pulled over by the police at an armed roadblock. There is an immediate sense of dread when the sheriff is disrespectful to Walter; it is obvious that Walter is afraid and confused with why he is being pulled over. The obvious racism of the sheriff and police let the view know right away that Walter is in trouble, and Walter’s nervousness is transferred to the viewer because it the situation is so unpredictable. At every stage of Walter’s journey through the courts, the amount of discrimination and prejudice is difficult to face. The justice system completely fails to protect an innocent man, and everyone involved in not only Walter’s defense team but also the prosecution knows it. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the entire movie – everyone involved knows that Walter is not the killer, yet Walter is still convicted of the murder.

Just Mercy is a must-see movie for everyone who wants to make sure the criminal justice system is putting true criminals behind bars.”

The problems of the prosecution are easy to see: at least 15 people testify that Walter was with them the entire day of the murder. In addition, the paid informant for the prosecution tells such an unbelievable tale full of inconsistencies that everyone knows he is lying in order to help the prosecution and receive a break in another criminal case. As frustrating as it is to watch an innocent man be convicted, however, the viewer must force themselves to do so, because if Walter McMillian and his family had to live through the injustice, the least we, as the viewers, can do, is witness their story and learn from it. 

As good as the movie is, the book is even better. Stevenson writes not only about the case, but includes case studies of other black men facing death sentences when the evidence exists to prove their innocence.

Due to some scenes of violence, this movie is rated PG-13. It is a must-see movie for anyone interested in a provocative and memorable movie that has motivated many people to re-examine their beliefs that someone in jail is there because he is guilty. After seeing Just Mercy, we now know that this is not the case. 

Rating: ★★★★★