MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard-educated black lawyer who decided to specialize in defense of the poor with a commitment to obtain justice for those wrongly convicted. He also was determined to show compassion for those struggling when one bad decision puts them on death row. Just Mercy is a grace-filled biopic that simply shares Stevenson’s efforts to create the Equal Justice Initiative (told in greater detail and clarity in his bestselling book).
The film spends most of its time dealing with the case of Walter McMillan (Foxx), a logger from Alabama who was arrested and charged with the murder of a young white woman. Although Walter was at a family gathering at the time of the murder (with multiple witnesses), the testimony of Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson) – an ex-felon – was enough for a jury to convict him of the crime. The case was put on trial in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.
It required years of research and patience for Stevenson and his team to come to the aid of McMillan. The case involved the corrupt Sheriff Tate (Michael Harding) as well as district attorney Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall) who was reluctant to consider new evidence. While the film focuses on Myers, Tate and Champan as problematic obstructions to justice, the real villain here is a criminal justice system that is broken and overworked. The film also includes two other prisoners on Death Row (Rob Morgan and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) in sympathetic fashion – although both of them have been rightfully convicted.
Just Mercy brought to mind the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” There are no quick fixes that will eradicate injustice, racism and mass incarceration. But Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative team demonstrate the patience and persistence necessary for moral living.
I quote again from Stevenson: “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”
Just Mercy is a stealth faith-based film, with positive representations of grace, church and scripture. I highly recommend it for viewing, discussion, and action. For justice doesn’t continue by simply talking about the message in the movies, but in demonstrating love and compassion in daily life.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A simple yet powerful film about justice for all and defense of the innocently convicted.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of violence, including death by electrocution; brief occasional racist epithets; injustice.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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