Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Destin Daniel Cretton|
|Produced by||Gil Netter|
|Based on||Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption|
by Bryan Stevenson
|Music by||Joel P. West|
|Edited by||Nat Sanders|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$50.4 million|
Just Mercy is a 2019 American biographical legal drama film co-written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, and starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and Brie Larson. It tells the true story of Walter McMillian, who, with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Stevenson.
Just Mercy had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2019, and was theatrically released by Warner Bros. Pictures on December 25, 2019. The film received positive reviews from critics and grossed $50.4 million. Foxx received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In 1989, idealistic young Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson travels to Alabama hoping to help fight for poor people who cannot afford proper legal representation. Teaming with Eva Ansley, he founds the Equal Justice Initiative, then travels to a prison to meet its death row inmates. He meets Walter "Johnny D." McMillian, an African-American man who was convicted of the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a white woman. Stevenson looks over the evidence in the case and discovers it hinges entirely on the testimony of convicted felon Ralph Myers, who provided highly self-contradictory testimony in exchange for a lighter sentence in his own pending trial.
Stevenson's first move is to ask prosecutor Tommy Chapman for aid; Chapman dismisses him without even looking at Stevenson's notes. Stevenson then asks McMillian's family friend Darnell Houston to testify that, at the time of the murder, he was elsewhere with a witness who had subsequently falsely corroborated Myers' testimony, evidence which would cause the prosecution's case to fall apart. When Stevenson submits Houston's testimony, police arrest Houston for perjury. While Stevenson is able to get the perjury charges dismissed, Houston is intimidated into refusing to testify in court. Shortly afterwards, Stevenson is intimidated by two sheriff deputies who remove him from his car at gunpoint and illegally search the car. They refuse to tell him why he was pulled over and let him go.
Meanwhile, Stevenson's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of another death row inmate, Herbert Lee Richardson, is denied. Richardson is sentenced to die by electric chair. Promising to be there with him, Stevenson comforts Richardson during his final moments, then bears witness to the chilling execution.
Returning to the McMillian case, Stevenson approaches Myers himself, who eventually admits that his testimony was coerced after police played to his fear of being burned and threatened to have him executed by electric chair. Stevenson appeals to the local court to grant McMillian a retrial and successfully convinces Myers to recant his testimony on the stand, but the judge nevertheless refuses to grant a retrial. Distraught, Stevenson vents his frustrations about the case to Ansley. He appears on 60 Minutes to rally public support in favor of McMillian, and then appeals to the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Supreme Court overturns the circuit court's decision, and grants McMillian his retrial. Stevenson then moves to have the charges dismissed entirely. He confronts Chapman at his home and tries to convince him to join him in his motion; Chapman angrily ejects him from his property. The day of the motion comes, and Stevenson appeals to the judge. Chapman agrees to join him in his motion, the case is dismissed, and McMillian is finally reunited with his family.
An epilogue notes that Stevenson and Ansley continue to fight for justice to the present day. Until his death in 2013, McMillian remained friends with Stevenson. A follow-up investigation into Morrison's death confirmed McMillian's innocence and posited that a white man was likely responsible; the case has never been solved. McMillian's former cellmate, Anthony Ray Hinton, remained on death row for 28 years until Stevenson was able to have all charges dropped and Hinton was eventually released in 2015.
- Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson
- Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian
- Brie Larson as Eva Ansley
- Rob Morgan as Herbert Richardson
- Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers
- Rafe Spall as Tommy Chapman
- O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Anthony Ray Hinton
- Michael Harding as Sheriff Tate
- Karan Kendrick as Minnie McMillian
- C.J. LeBlanc as John McMillan
- Darrell Britt-Gibson as Darnell Houston
- Dominic Bogart as Doug Ansley
- Lindsay Ayliffe as Judge Foster
- Ron Clinton Smith as Woodrow Ikner
- Hayes Mercure as Jeremy
- Kirk Bovill as David Walker
- Terence Rosemore as Jimmy
- Rhoda Griffis as Judge Pamela Bachaub
- Norm Lewis as the voice of Newscaster
Development on the film began in 2015, when Broad Green Pictures hired Destin Daniel Cretton to direct, with Michael B. Jordan set to star. In December 2017, Warner Bros. acquired the distribution rights for the film, after Broad Green Pictures had entered bankruptcy. In July 2018, Jamie Foxx was set to co-star, and in August 2018, Brie Larson, O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Tim Blake Nelson also joined the cast, with filming starting in Montgomery, Alabama, by August 30. In October 2018, actors Dominic Bogart, Hayes Mercure and Karan Kendrick were added as well.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2019. It received an awards qualifying limited release on December 25, 2019. Originally set to expand to a wide release on January 17, 2020, the film's expansion was moved up to January 10, 2020, when it opened in 2,375 theaters. In response to the killing of George Floyd, Warner Bros. Pictures made the film free on various streaming platforms during June 2020 to educate the public about systemic racism.
On June 19, 2020, TBS, TNT, and truTV aired the film along with the 2018 superhero film Black Panther to support social justice during Juneteenth. The broadcast is presented by Anthony Anderson and featured interviews with Stevenson himself, along with Kamala Harris and W. Kamau Bell.
Just Mercy grossed $36 million in the United States and Canada, and $14.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $50.4 million.
On its first day of limited release, the film made $81,072 from four theaters. It went on to make $105,000 in its opening weekend, December 27–29, for a five-day total of $228,072. The film grossed $425,862 over its 15 days of limited release. It then took in $3.7 million on its first day of wide release, including $800,000 from Thursday-night previews. The film went on to make $10 million over the weekend, finishing fourth at the box office. Just Mercy grossed $5.8 million over its second weekend of wide release, and $7.5 million over the full four-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, finishing seventh.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 84% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 282 reviews, with an average rating of 7.95/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Just Mercy dramatizes a real-life injustice with solid performances, a steady directorial hand, and enough urgency to overcome a certain degree of earnest advocacy." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100 based on 50 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, and PostTrak reported it received an average 4.5 out of 5 stars, with 73% of people saying they would definitely recommend it.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref.|
|AARP's Movies For Grownups Awards||January 11, 2020||Best Supporting Actor||Jamie Foxx||Nominated|||
|African-American Film Critics Association||December 2, 2019||Best Supporting Actor||Won|||
|Top 10 films of the year||Just Mercy||Won|
|Black Reel Awards||February 6, 2020||Outstanding Film||Asher Goldstein and Gil Netter||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Supporting Actor||Jamie Foxx||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble||Carmen Cuba||Nominated|
|NAACP Image Awards||February 22, 2020||Outstanding Motion Picture||Just Mercy||Won|||
|Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture||Michael B. Jordan||Won|
|Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture||Jamie Foxx||Won|
|Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture||Destin Daniel Cretton||Nominated|
|Outstanding Breakthrough Role in a Motion Picture||Rob Morgan||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture||Just Mercy||Won|
|National Board of Review||January 8, 2020||Freedom of Expression Award||Won|
|Screen Actors Guild Awards||January 19, 2020||Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role||Jamie Foxx||Nominated|
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