Ariel Winter has been switching up her hair ever since her longstanding show “Modern Family” ended earlier this year. After being a brunette for over a decade while playing Alex Dunphy, she went wild with color. She immediately colored her dark hair a fiery red then went blonde.
After rocking the platinum blonde loo, she recently made her big debut as a fun pink-haired starlet over Labor Day weekend. “Pinkie Pie spotted in the wild on Labor Day: a slideshow 🎀,” she wrote while introducing the new look.
HBO’s Saturday night movie this week is Just Mercy, a based-on-a-true-story drama about a young, idealistic lawyer’s fight to get an innocent Alabama man off death row in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Michael B. Jordan stars as Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law graduate who wrote the bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which detailed how he helped acquit Walter McMillian after he was wrongly convicted of murder charges levied against him by racist cops. The book is the foundation of the movie, which debuted in theaters in late 2019, and carries some added dramatic gravitas here in 2020.
JUST MERCY: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Monroe County, Alabama, 1987. McMillian (Jamie Foxx), known as Johnnie D. by his friends and family, had just finished a day’s work as a lumberman and was driving home when he came across police barricading the road. Their guns were pointed at him. Months prior, Ronda Morrison was murdered in the small-town laundromat where she worked. An overwhelmingly white jury convicted Johnnie D., a Black man, and gave him a 30-year sentence, which a judge, improbably but appropriately named Robert E. Lee Key, overruled in lieu of the death penalty.
Two years pass. Bryan Stevenson, a whip-smart young Harvard Law grad originally from a poor rural area in Delaware, moves to Monroe County. He teams with legal assistant Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) to help death row inmates who received inadequate legal representation. Jackass cops strip-search Bryan on his first visit to the prison, and maybe it goes without saying that they’re white and he’s Black. He sits down with six inmates, most notably Herb (Rob Morgan), a mentally ill Vietnam War vet who unwittingly killed a girl with a homemade explosive, and Johnnie D., who doesn’t want to go through more inevitably disappointing legal appeals. He turns down Bryan flat.
Bryan wins his soon-to-be client over by visiting his family. “I lived down a dirt road just like that,” he tells Johnnie D. Bryan digs into the case. Johnnie D. is no saint — he was targeted by white cops because he had cheated on his wife with a white woman. But Bryan finds a whole mess of weaknesses in the prosecution. He and Eva trip over and/or hurdle a variety of roadblocks put up by locals as they get their legal ducks in a row. Bryan is pulled over and harassed by cops; Eva endures an anonymous bomb threat against her family.
Meanwhile, Herb’s execution date draws near, and Bryan fights for a stay of execution. They pour over books, dig through files and shake down the primary witness in Johnnie D.’s trial, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), a career criminal who appears to have given false testimony in exchange for being moved off death row. Bryan officially opens up the Equal Justice Initiative, with an office and receptionist. Will Bryan and his growing pack of allies navigate this thorny and complicated scenario and save their clients from the electric chair?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?:Just Mercy has all the elements of decades of legal/courtroom dramas, drawing obvious comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s no Anatomy of a Murder or Inherit the Wind, but it’ll hold up better than all those cornball John Grisham adaptations from the ’90s. It also wraps in elements from death-row drama Dead Man Walking, and thematic tones from Werner Herzog’s searing anti-capital-punishment documentary Into the Abyss.
Performance Worth Watching: Foxx landed a supporting-actor SAG nom for his performance, which makes the most of his character’s blend of despondency and conviction. But Jordan once again cuts through any of the film’s moderately boilerplate drama with his SINCERITY LASER, which he wielded so effectively in Fruitvale Station and Creed.
Memorable Dialogue: Eva, after police search her home for explosives: “Maybe people will stop trying to kill us once they realize how charming we are.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take:Just Mercy is a rock-solid legal drama whose undeniable earnestness makes up for its lack of frills. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (the extraordinary Short Term 12) tonally situates the film in a comfortable spot between melodrama and procedural, and maintains a calm, steady, firm grip on our interest. He handles intense moments set on death row with appropriate gravitas — a scene in which Foxx’s Johnnie D. steadies Herb during a panic attack is quite moving, and a grueling scene in the execution chamber quietly courses with the passionate subtextual assertion that what we’re seeing is ethically barbaric.
The film steers clear of violent displays, but there’s no way we can avoid the overwhelming discomfort we feel when we see white cops pull over Black men and draw their guns. Such scenes are even more difficult to watch now than they were six months ago, even in a relatively middle-of-the-road movie like Just Mercy (they’re even more disturbing in Queen and Slim). Such is our world now. But Just Mercy is fueled by the real-life Stevenson’s understated charisma, and the film asserts that buoying calm rationalism with strong emotion is prudent in instances of great injustice and cruelty. It carries a simple, but effective message: It’s easy to tell the truth, and it’s very hard to tell a lie.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Just Mercy isn’t a groundbreaking film, but it’s an optimistic one. If you need a little hope and emotional release these days, this movie will give you some.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
I don’t know much about West African culture, so I cannot say if the film is a fair, accurate, or flattering portrayal of it. I can say that the film is unique and brings some attention to West African folklore. It’s not a kid-friendly film as all the female characters are nude, as is baby Kirikou, but most of the messages about being kind to others, not judging people by their size, and forgiveness, are all messages that appeal to younger audiences.
Stream it on Amazon Primehere.
The future of Pixar’s Soul is still to-be-determined, but right now it’s still set for a November 20, 2020 release date. Even if it is moved to 2021, hopefully, some of these animated films keep your attention until its release.
The specter of his older self (and the terrible bargain he made to get another chance at life) has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with John Constantine for months now – but now the game is over, and it’s time to get down to business. Namely, the business of destroying absolutely everything that made that second lease on life worth living…
(W) Simon Spurrier (A) Matias Bergara
In Shops: Oct 07, 2020
SNEAK PEEK: Preview of DC Comics’ John Constantine Hellblazer #10
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