Destin Daniel Cretton‘s “Just Mercy“ premiered at Toronto International Film Festival Friday evening. At the conclusion of the screening, it received a standing ovation with critics calling it “tense, infuriating, moving.” Word from Toronto is that the film carries strong performances across the board, with some even buzzing about a push for Jamie Foxx’s second Oscar. Other reactions describe the film as a procedural courtroom drama, treading on familiar territory, yet fully engaging with its 2 hour and 13 minute run time.
The film stars Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx (“Ray”), Academy Award winner Brie Larson (“Room”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”). Supporting cast members include Rob Morgan (“Mudbound”) Tim Blake Nelson (“Wormwood”) Rafe Spall and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”)
The official synopsis reads:
A powerful and thought-provoking true story, “Just Mercy” follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson).
One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.
Cretton is best known for directing the indie drama “Short Term 12,” which saw early roles from names like Brie Larson, Rami Malek, Lakeith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever. Larson worked with Cretton again on “The Glass Castle.” Her Oscar came with 2015’s “Room.” Cretton is also set to take the director’s chair for Marvel in directing “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
An Oscar winner already, Foxx is said to have an incredible turn in the film as the wrongfully accused Walter McMillian. Festival talk is already paving a potential spot in the Oscar race for the actor. Premiering at TIFF is a sure sweet spot to launch the campaign for his second Academy Award. Also receiving great applause is Jordan’s performance as determined lawyer Bryan Stevenson. Jordan made waves on HBO’s “The Wire” and then in films like 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” the directorial debut from “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler.
Owen Gleiberman of Variety describes Cretton’s return to film after six years away saying the director “finds a newly supple way to deliver a liberal Hollywood knockout punch.” He writes:
The movie builds to a stirring resolution, based on the certainty that hatred, in all its terrible power, will never be as powerful as justice.
Award Circuit’s own Shane Slater writes in his review:
Channeling the classic legal dramas, Cretton delivers a genuine crowd-pleaser by trusting in the power of the film’s story and the ability of his actors to convey its essential message.
To the film’s benefit, Cretton’s script embraces similarly humorous aspects within the dire circumstances. In particular, he honestly captures the way black people use laughter as relief from the pain of racism. Though his straightforward direction likely won’t earn many accolades, Cretton deserves credit for the film’s tasteful balance of that anguish and comic relief.
Other reactions started pouring out via Twitter, with some taking the film as a familiar procedural drama with immense performances:
While there’s passion behind it, JUST MERCY is a story we’ve seen before. Standout performances – especially from Jamie Foxx and Rob Morgan – keep it from becoming too stale #TIFF19
— Joi @ TIFF (@jumpedforjoi) September 7, 2019
#JustMercy is the first (surely of many) movie to make me ugly cry at #TIFF19 what a beautiful and moving film. The cast is incredible and the editing deserves all praise in the world for the fact that I didn't feel the runtime of the film.
— Rafael Motamayor @ TIFF (@RafaelMotamayor) September 7, 2019
— Ashley Menzel at #TIFF (@AshleyGMenzel) September 7, 2019
Haven't had an experience like Just Mercy in a while. Deeply moving, completely infuriating, ultimately hopeful. Extraordinary performances across the board. Audience was sobbing at multiple points. #TIFF19
— Sarah Marrs (@Cinesnark) September 7, 2019
#JustMercy is a tense, emotional, and alarming look into the criminal justice system. Jamie Foxx and Rob Morgan deliver stellar performances. This must see film is truly timely and hopefully It will spark the necessary discussions to bring reform to this broken system. #TIFF19
— PayOrWait @TIFF2019 (@payorwait) September 7, 2019
— Dancin Dan on Film @ #TIFF2019 (@dancindanonfilm) September 7, 2019
JUST MERCY: Super on the nose, predictable and conventional. However, it’s a powerfully moving story with performances by a stacked supporting casting. Also Rob Morgan has me crying. Move Jamie into Best Actor & Rob into supporting bc he can’t be denied.
— Valerie Complex (@ValerieComplex) September 7, 2019
#JustMercy is a tense, wildly engaging death-row drama that’s hard to watch at times, but also the kind of film that inspires multiple rounds of applause during the screening. Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan are terrific. Will be an audience favorite for sure#TIFF19 pic.twitter.com/iiNJeO8C6B
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) September 7, 2019