One of TIFF 2019’s biggest films is Just Mercy, which tells the story of world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he tries to free condemned death row prisoner Walter McMillian. It’s based on his novel by same name, written by Stevenson himself. The film premiered Friday night during TIFF, and during the press conference the cast and crew had plenty to say about it.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton didn’t quite know what to expect when he was hired for the project back in 2015. When all was said and done though, he called making the film “life-changing” and it was due to the fact that he went into it with an open heart, and was willing to listen and learn from Stevenson’s experiences. Stevenson himself said he originally decided to write the book because he wanted to get the courts to respond to the bigotry and social injustice happening right in front of everyone. He said we’ve accepted it too much, and nobody is talking about the statistics and human tragedies that are happening all across the country. Stevenson believes that if people saw what he sees on a regular basis as a civil rights lawyer, they would want change too. Being in close proximity to it changes your perception of it. In the end though, he just hopes to be able to change the environment where justice can be achieved.
In the film, Michael B. Jordan plays Stevenson, and he admittedly didn’t know much about the story going in. Once he did though, he knew he had a huge responsibility to get it out to the masses, and just wanted to do his part. To play the part, he didn’t focus too much on the words, because as he put it, words are words and just need to be read. He was more focused on his movements, and how to stand. He also focused on the emotions behind what was being said. He credits the cast for helping him out during the production as well, calling them all one big family, and by watching the cast on stage you can tell that they do indeed act like a family. There was a lot of buzz as well about Jordan possibly getting nominated for awards later on for the film, but he doesn’t let awards make his decisions. He didn’t take the role with awards in mind at all. He just wanted to be part of the change.
In the film Jamie Foxx plays the prisoner Walter McMillian. Foxx admittedly said he knew something about the culture going into the film, because his real life family has had to deal with that sort of injustice. He said that those in power don’t understand what police and jail sentences do to families, and he wanted to be part of helping change that. He called the film beautiful, and was impressed not only with how well the film tested with audiences, but how it tested even higher with white audiences.
Brie Larson commented that she was humbled to be allowed in the room, let alone play a role in the film. She was happy to have had the opportunity to be a truist and be able to support the cast. Her role was not to save, but to listen. Larson feels that way about all of her roles, even when playing comic book hero Captain Marvel. She didn’t agree to that role in the Marvel Universe to be a hero, she agreed because she wanted to be the person behind the role.
In he end Just Mercy is sure to receive plenty of attention when it comes to awards season. The film isn’t due to hit theatres until the end of December, but that just gives plenty of time for it to be advertised and have buzz built up for it even more.
By: Roderick Thedorff