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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Based on a true story

Just Mercy (2019) on IMDb

Plot Overview

hymn singer“A black boy from Delaware” Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) spends his second year Harvard intern­ship in Alabama where he discovers a kindred spirit in Death Row inmate Walter “Johnnie D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx) who shared a church history as a choir boy (“Coulda been me.”) Upon graduation Bryan disappoints his proud parents by taking a demeaning position as executive director of the newly formulated Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) with federal funding to help disen­fran­chised blacks.

getting readyHis meandering car ride to Holman Correctional Institute uses some establishing shots of Whites gardening in their well manicured yards & their children cavorting in play, followed by a black chain gang. At the prison he is strip searched, with our camera lingering on his naked black torso followed by a low shot of his skivvies on the floor, the gap emphasizing what­ever we might suspect about the length of his—— The immersive effect of this intro is to move our perspective to the South where society is racially stratified and a Negro lawyer is seen for his skin color rather than his fancy suit.

The prison inmates he tries to help fall into three categories: The first is those who are guilty as sin, but they received inadequate representation. Nobody cares. The second is the innocent falsely convicted. These help the southerners sleep easy at night knowing a crime has been punished. As the convict Walter put it, “They said … when they pulled me over, ‘One of you niggers did it, and if you didn't, then you're taking one for your homies.’” Nobody cares about him either or the likely White perpetrator. The third category is the White convict who got a reduced sentence in exchange for perjured testimony against a black man. While the first two kinds are met with apathy and indifference, the third is like pulling teeth to get him to recant. Equity is not much prized in these parts.


crucified ChristThe movie focuses on three convicts in particular, each corresponding to one of the inalienable rights Thomas Jefferson enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. The right to life was for­feit by Herb Lee Richardson when he admit­tedly planted a bomb on a woman's porch, which killed her even though he had just meant to scare her. He is resigned to his fate (“They set my date; I deserve what's comin'”) in the chair. His defense had failed to mention his service to his country, he being the only survivor when his platoon got wiped out in Nam, and now he has PTSD. Says Walter, “You need to be in a hospital, not here.” Capital punishment, however, is enjoined in Gen. 9:6.

cop writing ticketJohnnie D. although he is on Death Row for murder, got there when he ran afoul of the right to liberty. He got stopped by the law in his “sharp looking truck working for my own pulping business,” and he “ain't got no boss to check in with” but is “free to run up and down the road wher­ever you want when­ever you want in this fancy truck.” If he'd had a boss he was accountable to, he'd have been given a pass. As it was, his reputation for philan­dering preceded him, making him a target. A later discussion between Bryan and his assistant Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) recounted the African slave trade where they'd cull the black numbers with an occasional lynching to keep them in line. This here is the modern equivalent.

In the Bible there's an example or needing an authority—there a priest, here a boss—to keep a newly settled people in line: (2Kings 17:24-28) “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: there­fore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Where­fore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: there­fore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.”

There's an earlier biblical example of bad form, when some kids mock a man of God for not having a covering of hair, (2Kings 2:23-24) “And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

But the archetypical instance of mocking a man of God for being uncovered was when Noah's youngest son (Gen. 9:22-23) “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the naked­ness of his father, and told his two brethren with­out. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went back­ward, and covered the naked­ness of their father; and their faces were back­ward, and they saw not their father's naked­ness.” Noah hit Ham's son Canaan with a generational curse: (Gen. 9:24-25) “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son [Ham] had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” The lines of Noah's other two sons Shem and Japheth would be the masters and Ham's line represented here by Canaan would be the slaves. Ham's descendants were black and settled in Africa. It is the master who teaches his slaves appropriate behaviors in the society. In the Bible belt they under­stand this pretty well, and in this movie it was supposed to be a boss keeping a peripatetic Negro in check.

ole gloryStill it was a travesty of justice to convict him of murder on nothing but manufactured evidence while ignoring the exculpatory evidence. In the movie this travesty is show­cased on the TV program “Sixty Minutes” being watched in a bar with a Confederate flag hung on the wall. There are plenty of American flags displayed on lawns and in court­houses as well. We are reminded that there had been a Civil War, where the abolitionist North with its superior numbers and technology beat the South with their courage and Bibles. The enduring trauma of a massive loss of life resulted in a societal sickness akin to what happened to Herb above, if we care to make the association.

Martin Luther King
Jr.The pursuit of happiness is embodied by the convict Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson) who is quick to ask Bryan for a Coke in exchange for an audience, in particular a Sunkist Orange and some Jujy­fruits. “I love to talk,” he says and uses his vocal talents to pursue happiness wheedling things from his listener(s.) He had been hindered in his youth as a “foster kid all [his] life. Soon as you figure out one shitty parent they moving you to a new one.” That's reflective of the Tower of Babel incident in the Bible where God restrains man in his evil desires, limiting our pursuit of happiness by confusing our speech (Gen. 11:5-9.) We'd have a harder time defining our goals to each other that way. Each of the three inalienable rights in the Declaration has biblical limit from Genesis, but some are ignored in our politics.

Production Values

” (2020) was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. It was written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, based on Bryan Steven­son's 2014 book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Tim Blake Nelson gave an out­standing performance playing a low life Ralph Myers. He made his dialogue his own. The other male actors oddly seemed to tele­graph an effort to recite their lines accurately. It would have worked better for them at rehearsal than on the final take. The female actresses did not have that problem and did quite well.

gospel choirMPAA rated it PG–13 for thematic content including some racial epithets. As the film was necessarily emotional, the occasional expletive or epithet should be given a pass. The assistant advocate Eva, how­ever, was given to cussing, so much so that she had to apologize to her children for it. It was most unladylike. I don't know what the script­writer was thinking of. Some back­ground music was occasion­ally employed to bolster the southern ambiance, like “Ode to Billie Joe,” performed by Martha & The Vandellas. A church scene gives us some rousing hymns, and they're thrown in else­where as well.

This movie was a bit long for one with a lot of dry spells covering legal rigmarole but it couldn't be helped with­out compromising its bio­graph­ical nature. In other words it was not the fault of the director or writer but had to do with the nature of the beast.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This is a passable biography with thought-provoking material, but I think one has to have an interest in the subject matter to begin with in order to fully appreciate it. That said, it was a fairly decent product.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Special interest showings. Suspense: Predictable. Overall movie rating: Three stars out of five.