It’s been an honour to watch Michael B. Jordan ascend into the hallowed halls of stardom. Slowly but surely he’s moved into more demanding and intense roles, playing to his confidence as a performer. That strength greatly propels him through Just Mercy, a sometimes by-the-numbers, often impactful historical drama.
Just Mercy isn’t solely about real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative: it’s about the morality of the death penalty as a concept.
Jordan, who plays Stevenson at the start of his career, nails this quiet pain of being a black lawyer in Alabama in the ‘90s fighting for the rights of those on Death Row. You really get to see Jordan grow into this role as the film progresses, but never to the point of exaggeration. He’s cool and collected, sure, but believable. Jamie Foxx, who plays his key defendant Walter McMillian (who was falsely accused of murdering a white girl in 1986), is another one of Just Mercy’s secret weapons.
You really have to give props to Foxx for having the fortitude to play second fiddle despite the fact that he’s a massive star, which isn’t something a lot of actors of his calibre would do. As a result, Foxx’s subdued performance doesn’t dominate the film, allowing everyone else to sine, including O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his cellmate Anthony, who I firmly believe will win an Emmy or an Oscar one day. Then there’s Tim Blake Nelson in a classic character actor performance as the snake-like Ralph Myers: the sole witness to Walter McMillan’s crime.