I’ve been waiting for years to see the movie “Just Mercy.”
Literally. I’ve been a huge admirer of Bryan Stevenson, the attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, for many years. I’ve read his book, my wife and I contribute to the EJI, and I believe fervently in its mission of freeing wrongly-convicted men (mostly African-American), a task that I wish it never had to do.
So when I heard they were making a movie of “Just Mercy,” with Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Oscar winner/Katie Holmes boyfriend Jamie Foxx as Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian, the first death row inmate Stevenson ever got exonerated? Sign me up, baby!
We saw it Friday night, and it was really, really good. I won’t say it was four stars amazing, for a couple reasons I’ll enumerate in a minute. But first, the good.
The acting was fantastic. Foxx is in a lot of bad movies so you forget how good he is, but he immediately gives Johnny D humanity, and depth, and his skepticism about Stevenson’s chances of getting him freed after a grossly-unfair trial are certainly warranted. Foxx is amazing in scenes when he talks to a few fellow death-row inmates, Herbert, a Vietnam vet who placed a bomb on a porch that exploded, and Ray, who was wrongfully convicted of murder.
Jordan is outstanding, too, though he is given the best speeches in the movie. He mixes the earnestness and spirit of Stevenson with righteous outrage, as he moves from naivete in the beginning of the movie (“surely these old Southern white law enforcement officers will see their entire case is bullcrap!”) to determination and anger toward the end.
The dialogue is terrific, the supporting actors (like Brie Larson as Stevenson’s associate) are great, and the cinematography is beautiful.
The only flaws for me? One, there were definitely some cliche scenes, like when Stevenson is harassed by white police officers aware of what he’s up to upon leaving the prison. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen these scenes SO often in movies and TV, but they felt a little forced and trite to me.
The other flaw, and again this might just be me because I’m very familiar with the real story, is “Just Mercy” Hollywood-ized way too much. There were SO many scenes of grand, dramatic gestures and events, some of which really happened, many of which didn’t, that I felt like the director was trying TOO hard to ram his message home. Like, the facts and the story were strong enough to carry the message, we didn’t need so many dramatic, staged events.
But those are small quibbles; it’s so important this movie is out there, and that it was done right.
Do you have any idea how many people sitting in prison, waiting to die, didn’t commit their crimes? According to statistics compiled by EJI and The Innocence Project, another wonderful organization that does similar work, for every nine people executed in this country, one innocent person has been exonerated.
Nine to one! Absolutely ridiculous, cruel and inhumane that the death penalty is used at all, but it is certifiably true that innocent people, railroaded by a racially and economically biased justice system, have been killed.
Go see “Just Mercy,” and then support an organization like EJI or another like it. America’s justice system has been broken a long, long time, and the fact that so many prisoners on death row are innocent is proof positive of that.
**Next up today, I know there have been a lot of TV show reboots in recent years, most of them forgettable and a bad idea, but ladies and gentlemen, we have finally hit TV show reboot gold! That’s right, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “Saved by The Bell” is coming back!
And not only that, Mark-Paul Gosselear is returning as Zack Morris, who of course is now the governor of California! (Could happen. Wondering if A.C. Slater is his director of security). Word is that Tiffani Amber-Thiessen may be coming back, too, for the show on the NBC’s streaming Peacock network, and Elizabeth Berkeley (somehow NOT busy filming “Showgirls 2”) and Mario Lopez will also be back.
I am irrationally excited by this. In fact, you might say (wait for it) I’m so excited, I’m so excited.
Take it away, Jessie Spano!
**Finally today, what a strange and exhilarating quartet of NFL playoff games this weekend, with only one of the four going straightforward and just as we expected (the 49ers blowing out an overmatched Vikings squad).
Crazy stuff happened in Baltimore, Kansas City and Green Bay, way too much to fully recount here, but when the dirt and grass has settled, we’ve got two pretty fascinating conference title games next week, with one (Kansas City-Tennessee) nobody predicted, and the other (Green Bay-San Francisco) that a lot of people probably did.
Some quick takeaways from this weekend:
— The Houston Texans were up 24-0 on the road Sunday, completely dominating a playoff game against the inept-looking Chiefs. And then gave up 51 of the next 58 points.
Outscored 51-7!!! That’s nuts. So many things went wrong for the Texans, so fast, including their intelligence-challenged head coach, Bill O’Brien, calling for a fake punt while LEADING 24-7 and at his own 31 yard line in the second quarter. Spoiler alert: It failed, the Chiefs got a spark, and scored lots of touchdowns thereafter.
There have probably been stupider decisions made in NFL coaching history, but boy that one’s up there. Amazing performance by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but wow did the Texans gag one up there. Happy for Chiefs fans, who’ve been waiting almost as long as my fellow Jets fans to get to a Super Bowl, and now they’re one game away (last time K.C. played in the Big Game was 1970)
— Baltimore was the best team in the NFL all season, got a home playoff game with a raucous stadium behind them and… pooped the bed Saturday night. Just a miserable offensive performance from likely MVP Lamar Jackson and Co.
Lots of idiots on the electric Twitter machine were saying that clearly he can’t win the big one, was overrated, and other nonsense. Clearly Jackson had a bad game, but the dude is a sensational talent. It may just take him a little longer to win big games.
— I can’t believe a team QB’ed by Ryan Tannehill just won two playoff games on the road. But Derrick Henry is an absolute beast. Titans will have a puncher’s chance next week, their defense is very very good.
— Finally, even down 28-10, I thought Seattle was going to beat Green Bay Sunday. That’s how good Russell Wilson is. And he did get his team very close, but the ‘Hawks defense couldn’t get one final stop at the end (though the refs surely helped the Pack with a dubious first-down call at the end).
Aaron Rodgers was fantastic, the Packers defense held, and they’re going to give S.F. a heck of a battle.
Happy we’ve got four new-ish teams, who haven’t been in the Super Bowl in a while, battling it out. Next Sunday will be lots of fun.