“Just Mercy” is a movie everyone needs to see.
In fact, if you want to just stop reading and go see the film right now, I’m all right with that. That’s how important I think it is.
But in case you need a little more convincing, here’s why I think it’s a must-see for everyone concerned about faith and justice.
“Just Mercy” tells the story of Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) and his work with death row inmates in Alabama.
He’s the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a superstar in the world of criminal justice reform.
He’s also a professor and an author. In fact, this movie is based on Stevenson’s book of the same name.
The book is half memoir about his early days at the Equal Justice Initiative, half reflections on social justice issues in our country today. I’ve been reading it in preparation to see the film, and it is incredible.
Of course, no movie adaptation can perfectly live up to the book it’s based on, but “Just Mercy” does an excellent job of portraying the book’s central narrative in a powerful, compelling way.
Both the book and the film center on one particular true story: the case of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx).
While condemned on death row for a murder he did not commit, McMillian meets Stevenson, who offers to take on his case for free.
Over the course of the film, the two unveil the many ways the system has failed McMillian and fight to prove his innocence – an upward battle that will pit them against an indignant prosecutor, corrupt law officers and a biased public more interested in their own peace than in the truth or justice for McMillian.
The premise is interesting enough on its own, and it’s made even more so by the fact that this story really happened.
But that’s not all “Just Mercy” has going for it. It’s also been created by some incredible people.
In addition to Jordan and Foxx, the movie also stars Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson and Brie Larson, who each give beautiful, powerful performances that capture the passion and struggle of the real-world people they’re portraying.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton also co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Lanham. Though they may not be household names like the stars of “Just Mercy,” you could be hearing about them again very soon.
The two just received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for their work on this film. The possibility that a movie about criminal justice reform could win an Oscar this year is just amazing.
Star power and Oscar buzz aside, my favorite thing about this movie is the way that it invites viewers to empathize with a group of people they probably have no experience with – death row inmates.
While it’s common to dismiss these individuals as good-for-nothing criminals, it’s important to remember they are people.
They have families, communities, feelings and dreams, and this movie does a good job reminding us of that.
It also highlights the problems with capital punishment in the United States.
While the main story is about an innocent man at risk of losing his life for no reason, the film also features the stories of other inmates, including one who admits to the crime of which he’s accused.
But even his case is more complex than death row inmates are generally portrayed to be, and the film invites us to recognize the humanity even of those we may not want to.
Even though the story depicted in the film took place nearly 20 years ago, it’s still as timely as ever.
Debates over the issues in our legal system, especially when it comes to racial bias and capital punishment, are extremely relevant today.
Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty – and I’m not shy to say that I’m opposed to the entire practice – this film is beneficial because it shares the experiences of people who’ve largely been shut out and ignored by society.
It’s important we recognize and value the humanity of every person, even those on death row.
And as “Just Mercy” points out, we have some serious work to do if we ever wish to call our society just.
I don’t think anyone wants to live in a country where an innocent man is condemned to death without recourse.
If we want to avoid harming innocent people like McMillian in the future, we need to face the mistakes of our past and learn from them so we can do better going forward.
“Just Mercy” is a beautiful portrayal of two men working together toward justice. And it’s emblematic of a larger movement within our nation to create a more just and merciful future for everyone.
I consider it a privilege to be a part of that movement, and the film invites everyone watching to join in too.
That invitation is worth considering, and so I hope you’ll give this movie a watch.
We need to support movies like this because they do good for the world.
I’d like to see more of them, and less of the incidents that inspire them. We can make that happen together.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Dundee’s website. It is used with permission.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton.
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, based on the book by Bryan Stevenson.
Cast: Michael B. Jordon (Bryan Stevenson), Jamie Foxx (Walter McMillian), Brie Larson (Eva Ansley), Rob Morgan (Herbert Richardson), Tim Blake Nelson (Ralph Myers), Marcus A Griffin Jr. (Charlie).
The movie’s website is here.
Devon Dundee lives in Greenwood, Arkansas, with his with wife Katherine and their dog Winter. He currently serves as media pastor at Cavanaugh Free Will Baptist Church.