I didn’t watch the trailers for the film: knowing Michael B Jordan was in it was enough of a reason for me to want to see it. Learning that it was about someone wrongly being on death row meant I would also be interested in the subject. And the fact that Mum wanted to see it too meant I didn’t have to go alone.
In many ways the plot of Just Mercy was what I expected: the main characters meeting and getting to know each other, a bit of digging to find out what went wrong, and scenes in court to set it all right. Some of this didn’t have as much weight as I expected though. There was much less time spent in court than I expected, and the ‘speeches’ weren’t as powerful as you come to expect from watching lots of Law & Order and The Good Wife.
I was amazed at how quickly the time passed. About 5 minutes from the end, I thought, “this can’t be the end, there’s still loads of time to go”, and then it finished. Although there are a few captioned scenes interspersed with the credits, which are worth sticking around for.
There were bits that felt unresolved, namely, the reason that Walter McMillian was charged/framed when there was no evidence; the prison guard who was softening; and obviously the murder itself. But as the story is from the perspective of Bryan Stevenson, I suppose it makes sense that he wouldn’t know more about these things. I also haven’t read the book so I don’t know how true it is, and how much poetic licence has been used.
What surprised me most though was that the film was about more than Walter McMillian, and this is the reason it was such a good film. In fact, as good as Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx were, the story was completely stolen by Rob Morgan, playing Herbert Richardson. It was heartbreaking but handled so well. His story is the reason I cried so much during the film, on the way home, and every time I have thought about it since.
As we were leaving, I said that the scary thing about the film is that Walter is in the minority because he was exonerated, not because he was falsely accused and jailed. Listening to the Undisclosed podcast has left me with little faith in the justice system, especially where the death penalty is concerned.
More than anything, the film has made me question what right I have to squander my skills, intelligence and time when there is such injustice in the world. To look at my CV you might say that I do help people and tackle injustice in small ways; but it doesn’t feel like that from where I sit. It feels like a waste; like too much time spent on nonsense and almost no time making a difference to anyone.