Michael B. Jordan has delivered riveting performances in such films as “Fruitvale Station,” “Black Panther” and the “Creed” films, but in his new film, “Just Mercy,” he turns in his finest work.
In this true story, Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, an idealistic young lawyer fighting for death row inmates in 1990s Alabama.
One of his first clients is Walter “Johnnie D.” McMillian (played by Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx), convicted of the murder of a white dry-cleaner clerk under circumstances that scream frame job.
McMillian was at a church function with more than a dozen witnesses at the time of the murder. The chief witness against him was coerced by local cops to implicate him. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy, as he fights for his client, Stevenson finds the legal system stacked against him.
Here’s my best tribute to the power of this movie: The real Bryan Stevenson is alive and well and continuing his work. Yet a few times during this film, I felt real concern he would be jailed or assaulted or worse. The corruption and racism is so entrenched, it seems ready to annihilate any person of color.
The film is a powerful indictment of our criminal justice system and how it is weaponized against blacks. Jordan has a courtroom moment that rivals anything of the great Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It just might give you goosebumps, and it belongs on his actor reel for this awards season.
His Stevenson fights for justice because he believes, simply, it is the right thing to do. That purity of purpose is conveyed as simply the only honorable way to live.
The film coda is especially sobering: For every nine people executed in this country, one has been proven innocent and released from death row. What does that say about the credibility of our criminal justice system? No matter your position on the morality of the death penalty, we cannot abide that rate of error.
Stevenson and his peers at the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative have helped more than 140 death row prisoners. If there is one measure of hope to take from from this film, it is the reminder that we do have heroes walking among us, working to create a better world. Check out “Just Mercy” for yourself.