"Just Mercy" movie review

Just Mercy”: police profiling, and wrongful convictions (and deliberate framing of African-Americans)

“Just Mercy”, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, combines the theme of wrongful conviction for capital crimes (and the death penalty) with police profiling by race, of African Americans, in the south, in a non-fiction account of the work of young Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who leaves home in Delaware with a fearful mother to work in Alabama providing legal help pro bono (he has to live off donations) to wrongfully arrested and imprisoned and convicted blacks.  The film is based on Bryan’s own book.

He starts his work in the mid 1980s (I actually made a weekend trip through Birmingham in 1985) and finds business parks won’t rent to him.  He sets up office in a shack.

The movie quickly sets up the tendency for police in the 1980s to pursue, arrest, and frame blacks for crimes they didn’t commit, which puts a new spin on what we would start seeing with Ferguson in 2014 (which is bound to create a movie soon).

The movie starts with the arrest (by the corrupt sheriff Tate played by Michael Harding)  of Walter McMillan (“Johnny D…”), Jamie Foxx, working for himself as an entrepreneur clearing a forest, to be accused of a murder in a laundromat.  The movie varies off into covering the stories of some other inmates, including one who is electrocuted almost on camera (which did happen in Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” (1999)). Eventually, we learn that prosecutors used a white convict (a burn-scarred Ralph Myers played by Tim Blake Nelson) to frame McMillan.  The film (139 minutes) moves toward courtroom drama sequences in which Myers recants in a new trial hearing, and the judge doesn’t believe him (despite publicity from a 60 Minutes Broadcast).  But by the time of the states supreme court appeal in 1993 the prosecutor has a change of heart (urged by Stevenson) in front of the justice (Rhoda Griffs).  This was early in the Clinton administration, soon to be consumed with Waco and “don’t ask don’t tell”.

The film bears obvious comparisons to “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Robert Mulligan, 1962) which I would show to social studies classes when working as a substitute teacher.  See also “Queen and Slim” review here (Nov. 28, 2019). This film should interest Andrew Jenks, who has made films on the wrongful conviction problem; but here, compared to his work, the issues or profiling and resentful racism are obvious.

The film appears to be party filmed in Georgia (Conyers) as well as near courthouses in downtown Montgomery AL.

Back in the 1980s, it was common for white people to make disparaging remarks in the workplace (as about NFL players) in southern cities like Dallas. By the late 1990s this had become unacceptable behavior and could lead to discipline in many companies.  I was working for a life insurance company in Northern Virginia in the early to mid 1990s and was tangential to some litigation when a black man was fired and I transferred to replace him, in a case where his claims seemed exaggerated and improbable to me at the time. But even then other black employees told me (they knew I was working on my first DADT book) that they told their children to grow up expecting discrimination.

Picture: Near Wetumpka, AL, personal trip, May, 2014

 Name: “Just Mercy“

Director, writer: Destin Daniel Cretton, Bryan Stevenson

Released:          2019/12/25

Format: 1.85:1

When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2019/1/12

Length: 139

Rating: PG-13

Companies:      Warner Brothers

Link:    official

Stars:    ****_

(Posted: Monday, January 13, 2020 at 11 AM EST)


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Author billsmePosted on January 13, 2020January 13, 2020Categories B-Movies, capital punishment, courtroom drama, criminal justice problems, race, TIFF-TorontoTags Bryan Stevenson, Warner Brothers Edit "“Just Mercy”: police profiling, and wrongful convictions (and deliberate framing of African-Americans)"