FlixChatter Review: JUST MERCY (2020)

I saw Just Mercy at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, but finally just got around to reviewing it. It ends up being perfect timing given today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day as it’s known in the States), celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. This year it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.

Just Mercy is an extraordinary BOAT (based on a true story) film. Not only because of the powerful and thought-provoking subject matter, but the story is based on a memoir of attorney Bryan Stevenson who’s depicted in the film, with Stevenson himself served as an advisor. That aspects lends authenticity to the story, plus there’s two powerhouse actors bringing it to life: Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, a wrongfully imprisoned black man who’s on death row.

The story starts with Stevenson after graduating from Harvard Law School. Naturally the bright young lawyer could’ve taken a number of lucrative jobs in a big city of his choice. But instead he drives to Alabama to work on people who are wrongly-condemned and not afforded proper representation. His only ally is Eva Asnley (Brie Larson), a young mother working to match lawyers with death row inmates. She was about to give up when she got a call from Stevenson looking to start a legal center for inmates on death row.

As far as legal/courtroom dramas goes, Just Mercy perhaps isn’t the most accurate. I talked to an attorney friend of mine after the screening and he noticed a bunch of glaring inaccuracies in the courtroom scenes. Be that as it may, for most people who aren’t in the legal field, I don’t think we’d ever notice those. What the movie has going for it is the emotional impact. The flashback scene that shows an encounter between Walter and the town sheriff who obviously deems Walter guilty before he does or say anything. “You don’t know what you’re into down here in Alabama, when you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.” – it’s just one of Walter’s gut-wrenching quote that stays with me. By the time we see him in the film, Walter’s already served several years on Alabama’s Death Row, having been accused of murdering an 18-year-old white dry-cleaning clerk.

It’s the kind of film that gets you riled up for the blatant racism and injustice that sadly still hasn’t been completely eradicated to this day. The film mentioned the fact that Walter had an affair with a white woman automatically made him a suspect, despite having a strong alibi that he was nowhere near the location of the crime, and dozens of witnesses were with him at the time of the murder. The scene where Bryan first met Walter’s family, greeted warmly by his wife who’s astounded that he’d bother to visit them packs an emotional punch.

Both Jordan and Foxx did an astounding job in their respective roles. It’s clear that the subject matter is personal to them, and it shows. Foxx has shared in several talk shows that his own father was wrongly jailed for seven years for having $25 of illegal substances. What’s most heartbreaking to see is how Walter sort of resigned himself to a death sentence. Even when Bryan assured him he could get an appeal, Walter thought a death sentence a foregone conclusion. It’s no surprise given just how much the rigged system is stacked against them, and that what really happens have no bearing on the jury’s conviction.

The third act consists of conventional courtroom drama stuff. It gets a bit schmaltzy and even plodding at times, but director Destin Daniel Cretton manages to keep the emotional quotient high. Jordan and Foxx really shine on and off the courtroom scenes, but I have to give props to supporting actors Herbert Richardson as Walter’s fellow death-row inmate and Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal whose false testimony incriminated Walter. Rafe Spall, an underrated English character actor,  is also pretty effective as the District Attorney for Monroe County, a key figure in Walter’s appeal process. If I have to nitpick however, aside from one brief conversation with his mother about wanting to fight injustice, we don’t really get to see just who Bryan Stevenson is and what is he about as a person. I suppose the film’s focus in the fight to free Walter McMillian, but I think his character (and Larson’s) could use some more depth.

Overall, the talented cast elevates Just Mercy slightly above a run-of-the-mill social justice drama. Stylistically, this film is pretty subdued, no dazzling cinematography or cutting-edge camera work to speak of. Even the music isn’t particularly memorable. But in the end, it’s Walter McMillian’s narrative that takes center stage, as it should be because it’s an inspiring, timely story and one that needs to be told. The film made me want to learn more about the McMillian’s case and others similar to his, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative that Stevenson and Eva Asnley founded in 1989. For that reason alone, the filmmakers and cast did an admirable job.


Have you seen JUST MERCY? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

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I have to admit I’m a bit of a sucker for romantic dramas. Not rom-coms, but a genuine heart-wrenching love story that’ll get me to cry my eyes out. Well, this film certainly fits into that category. Based on an Australian novel of the same name by M. L. Stedman, we’re first introduced to Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran. He resorts to taking a lonely job as a lighthouse keeper as he wants to be as far away from people as possible. He then meets a beautiful young girl Isabel Graysmark who’s drawn by his stoic, resigned demeanor. A courtship by correspondence slowly defrosts Tom’s heart and the two did get married. Off they go to live together in Janus Rock, a secluded island off the coast of Western Australia.

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The film takes a good sweet time to introduce us to Tom (a taciturn, reflective Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (the lovely Alicia Vikander). There’s a compelling realism to how their relationship and perhaps the fact that the two actors fell in love on set made their chemistry even more believable. But Tom and Isabel’s seemingly blissful union doesn’t last long. They’re driven to the point of despair after Isabel’s miscarriages, happening one after another. The two main actors convey the heartbreak believably, especially Isabel who was such a innocent, happy-go-lucky sweet girl when she first met Tom. Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance seems to have set up the long buildup to illustrate the mental state of the characters and so even though it was a s-l-o-w process, it didn’t feel tedious, at least to me.

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There’s something so ethereal yet mysterious about the setting at Janus Rock, the long lingering shots of the ocean and those big waves hit the rocks seem to hint of something ominous that’s about to happen. Sure enough, one day a rowboat carrying a baby and a lifeless man is adrift. Isabel sees it as a gift to their family, that the baby is hers to keep. Tom on the other hand, feels compelled to do the right thing. The moment the two contemplate this decision is quite heart-wrenching to behold. You know these characters are making a terrible decision that will haunt them in the end. At times I sympathize with them given what they’ve gone through, but towards the end it was quite frustrating.

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The emotional wallop and melodrama seems to be too much for some critics, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus says that it ‘… ultimately tugs on the heartstrings too often to be effective.’ I remember thinking that as I left the theater, that perhaps the film is a tad overly-manipulative, what with the decidedly somber scenery, sad faces and sad music. It made me recall a line from a Scottish rom-com where the protagonist is prone to ‘worshipping her own pain.’ I think you could say that about this film and the fact that there’s very little humor throughout, it can be overwhelming. I also feel that the scenes with the little girl seems rather trite as it didn’t feel true to me.

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That said, I actually think the film is made with care and the actors are committed to their roles. I also have to mention Rachel Weisz here, who appears midway through the film in a key role. This is the first Cianfrance film I’ve seen so far, but this isn’t the first time he deals with films about intense heartbreak (i.e. Blue Valentine). I can’t form an opinion yet about his skills as a filmmaker, but I think a bit less indulgence would do this film some good. At 2 hrs 13 minutes, the film drags quite a bit and trying your patience even those who are invested in the story. I think even if you’re a fan of Fassbender or Vikander, you might just wait to rent this later. One thing for sure, I’m even more impressed with the skills of the two actors and their performance made this film well worth my time.

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Have you seen ‘The Light Between Oceans’? Well what did you think?

Guest Post @ Digital Shortbread Blog – My review of Night Train to Lisbon (2013)

This review is my contribution to Bite Sized Reviews over at @ Digital Shortbread Blog

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Night Train To Lisbon is a historical-tinged drama where a chance meeting leads a Swiss Professor to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Based on a best-selling novel by Pascal Mercier and directed by Danish director Bille August, the film stars Jeremy Irons in an understated yet engaging performance.

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Though Iron’s Raimund is the protagonist, it’s Jack Huston who’s also a standout in the film. He’s fantastic as the young doctor Amadeu as there’s a mysterious quality about him, and there’s quite an alluring chemistry between him and Mélanie Laurent. The always enchanting Charlotte Rampling is marvelous as a woman who’s personally connected to Amadeu and fiercely protective of their past.


Check out my full review by clicking the image below

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