Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rob Morgan, Rafe Spall, Tim Blake Nelson
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Bio-drama directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Based on the true story of civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) as he recounts his experiences and details the case of a condemned death row prisoner, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), whom he fought to free, as he becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism, with the odds and the system stacked against them.REVIEWS
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Our Favorite Quotes:'We can't change the world with only ideas in our minds. We need conviction in our hearts.' - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) Click To Tweet 'Hope allows us to push forward, even when the truth is distorted by the people in power. It allows us to stand up when they tell us to sit down, and to speak when they say be quiet.' - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) Click To Tweet 'Each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done.' - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) Click To Tweet 'If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy. And perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.' - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) Click To Tweet
[as Bryan is about to leave for Alabama to help poor people with legal representation]
Brenda: I know you got your law degree now, and you think you’re grown, but you’re still my child. And I’m the one that has to deal with your funeral arrangements if you get killed down there.
Bryan Stevenson: Come on, mom.
Brenda: You think this is funny? Because if you can’t see the danger in what you’re doing, you need to ask Harvard for your money back. You used to be smarter than that.
Bryan Stevenson: The first time I visited death row, I wasn’t expecting to meet somebody the same age as me. Grew up on the same music, from a neighborhood just like ours. It could’ve been me, mama. I don’t want to move far away from you. I love you. But you always taught me to fight for the people who need the help the most.
Brenda: I am very proud of you, son. I know your heart’s in the right place. But it’s not that simple. What you’re doing is going to make a lot of people upset. You better be careful.
Bryan Stevenson: I will. I promise.
Bryan Stevenson: We’re providing legal services to people who need help.
Bill: And you’ll have to do it someplace else, because I can’t have people like that around here.
Bryan Stevenson: Not everyone is in there for a good reason, sir.
Bill: Y’all have a good day now.
Eva Ansley: What a piece of sh*t.
Eva Ansley: I was just about to give up, when I got a call from a Harvard lawyer saying that he had just passed the Alabama Bar, and had federal funding to start a legal center for inmates on death row. I was in before you even offered me the job.
Bryan Stevenson: And before you knew I couldn’t pay you anything.
[visiting Herbert, a death row inmate]
Herbert Richardson: I think they going to set my execution soon. Last lawyer said there ain’t nothing left to do.
Bryan Stevenson: There’s always something that we can do. Whatever you did, your life is still meaningful. And I’m going to do everything possible to keep them from taking it. Now, tell me everything that happened.
[after Bryan visits Walter in prison for the first time]
Walter McMillian: You don’t know what you’re into down here, do you? You think all the fancy words is going to get you somewhere around here in Alabama? All they’re going to do is eat you alive and spit you out, just like every other black man they do when he stepped out of line. You come out in here with them fancy suits. Talking like a white. These people don’t give a damn about that. The only suit they want to see a n**** in is the suit I got on.
Bryan Stevenson: Mr. McMillian, I can see how that be hard…
[Walter slams the table]
Walter McMillian: No, you don’t! No, you don’t. No, you don’t.
Walter McMillian: You’re rich boy from Harvard. You don’t what it is down here. When you’re guilty from the moment you born. And you can buddy up with these white folks, and make them laugh, and try to make them like you, whatever that is. And you say, “Yes, sir. No, ma’am,” but when it’s your turn, they ain’t got to have no fingerprints, no evidence, and the only witness they got made the whole thing up. And none of that matter when all y’all think is that I look like a man who could kill somebody.
Bryan Stevenson: But that’s not what I think.
Walter McMillian: You know how many people been freed from Alabama death row? None. What make you think you’re going to change that? I ain’t doing this sh*t again. Guard!
Bryan Stevenson: Mr. McMillian.
[Walter starts walking away]
Walter McMillian: We’re done here.
[Walter continues to walk away]
Bryan Stevenson: Mr. McMillian, please! I’m here to help!
[referring to Walter]
Tommy Chapman: That man caused a lot of pain. A lot of pain for folks around here. And if you go digging in those wounds, you’re going to be making a lot of people very unhappy.
Bryan Stevenson: Well, it isn’t my job to make people happy, it’s to achieve justice for my client.
Minnie McMillian: You the lawyer?
Bryan Stevenson: Yes, ma’am. My name is Bryan Stevenson.
Minnie McMillian: I’m Johnny D’s wife, Minnie.
Bryan Stevenson: Pleasure to meet you.
[she embraces Bryan]
Minnie McMillian: Thank you so much for driving all the way out here. Most lawyers barely make time to call.
Bryan Stevenson: How many of you all were with Walter that morning?
[most of his friends and family raise their hands]
[referring to her children]
Minnie McMillian: And I really don’t know what I’m suppose to tell them about staying out of trouble when you can be in your own house, minding your own business, surrounded by your entire family, and they still go and put some murder on you.
Minnie’s Daughter: It’s not just dad. We feel like they put us all on death row too.
Bryan Stevenson: Our organization will cover all legal fees. So, none of you will ever have to pay a penny. It’s clear to me that this trial was constructed with lies. And based off everything that I’ve seen, I think we could build a case strong enough to bring Johnny D home. And I’m not going to stop until I’ve done that.
Minnie McMillian: Well, you seem like good people to me, but Johnny D is the one you’re going to have to convince.
Evelyn: I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I was sold on, “Y’all won’t pay a penny.”
[Bryan visits Walter in prison again after he’s met with his family]
Bryan Stevenson: Thanks for seeing me again. I know the last time we met, things didn’t go quite the way I…
Walter McMillian: I just can’t believe you met my family. Drove down that dirt road, crammed up in that little house, talked to all of my people, to say you going to try to fight for me. That mean a lot.
Bryan Stevenson: It meant a lot to me too.
Walter McMillian: I know you talked to Minnie, she told you what I did to her. I ain’t got no excuse for cheating on a woman good as that, good as she been to me. I don’t know why she standing by me.
Bryan Stevenson: She’s standing by you because she knows you shouldn’t be in here. And so do I. I know you didn’t kill Ronda Morrison. And I can help you prove that in court, if you’ll let me.
Walter McMillian: Why is you a lawyer down here in Alabama, taking these cases that ain’t nobody going to pay you for?
Bryan Stevenson: I grew up down a road just like yours. I played soccer in a dirt field, with the pigs and chickens. It used to pump sewage from my yard. When I was a teenager, my grandfather was murdered over a black-and-white TV. We kept waiting for someone to show up to help, they never did. And that’s when I realized that outside my community nobody cared. Because to them, he’s just another black man killed in the projects. I know what it’s like to be in the shadows. That’s why I’m doing this.
Walter McMillian: That’s a pretty good reason.
Eva Ansley: When you asked me to do this thing with you, I knew that I’d lose some friends, have people talking sh*t behind my back, or to my face. I don’t need people to like me, as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. But threatening my family…
Bryan Stevenson: Eva, you know I’d never blame you if you needed to stop.
Eva Ansley: I don’t want my son growing up knowing that his mom stopped doing what was right just because she was scared of some crazy bigot.
Eva Ansley: We’re planning to grow this into something the whole country will be talking about, and you can say that it all started in your building.
Office Manager: What exactly kind of work do you do?
Eva Ansley: We’re just helping people.
[Bryan visits convicted felon Myers who provided testimony for in Walter’s case]
Ralph Myers: Alls I’m saying is, ain’t nobody cared about a damn thing besides who killed that girl. And when people care about a thing that much, they’ll do anything to get what they want.
[to the prison guard, as he’s being taken to be electrocuted]
Herbert Richardson: Can I say bye to my friends?
[the guard nods; Herbert stops by Walter’s cell]
Walter McMillian: When it get too much for you, you take them deep breaths, and let your mind go.
Herbert Richardson: Wish I didn’t have to do this alone.
Walter McMillian: You ain’t by yourself, Herbert. We all with you. Ain’t that right, Ray?
Anthony Ray Hinton: That’s right, Herb. You ain’t rid of us yet.
Herbert Richardson: You’ve been a good friend.
[as he’s about to be electrocuted]
Herbert Richardson: Most people don’t get to sit and think all day about it being their last day alive. It’s different than Nam. At least I had a chance there.
Bryan Stevenson: I’m sorry.
Herbert Richardson: You’re the only one who cared enough to fight for me. Since I don’t have family, I told the Army to send my flag to you, if that’s okay.
Bryan Stevenson: I’d be honored.
Herbert Richardson: Can you pray with me?
Bryan Stevenson: Of course.
[appealing to the judge regarding Walter’s case]
Bryan Stevenson: The truth has not been told in this case. And I understand a lot of time has gone by, but I personally believe that it’s never too late for justice.
Judge Foster: Therefore, it is ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that the trial testimony of Ralph Myers is not found to have been perjured testimony, and no new trial shall be granted at this time. Walter McMillian shall be returned to Holman Correctional Facility where he is to face death by electrocution.
[looking visibly emotional. John rises from his seat]
John McMillan: You can’t do this to us again, Judge.
Judge Foster: Sit down, young man.
Bryan Stevenson: John.
John McMillan: That’s my dad, sir.
Walter McMillian: John, I want you sit down now.
John McMillan: He ain’t do nothing wrong.
Bryan Stevenson: Listen to your father. Not here.
John McMillan: He ain’t do nothing wrong!
Judge Foster: Sit down right now, or you’ll be arrested for contempt to court.
Bryan Stevenson: Judge, just give me one second. Please, Judge. Hold on. One second.
Minnie McMillian: Sit down, John.
Judge Foster: I won’t say it again. Sit down!
John McMillan: Not if you’re going to kill my dad for no reason. Not if you’re going to kill my dad for no reason! He ain’t do nothing wrong! He didn’t do nothing wrong! You’re killing my family, sir! You’re killing my family, sir! You!
[to Eva; after the judge refuses to grant a retrial for Walter’s case]
Bryan Stevenson: Nobody wants to remember that this is where thousands of enslaved people were shipped in, and paraded up the street to be sold. Just ten miles from here, black people were pulled from their homes and lynched. Nobody talks about it. And now this black boy from Delaware walks into their courtrooms, and expects them to admit they convicted an innocent black man.
Bryan Stevenson: I promised that whole community I was going to bring him home. And I just made things worse.
Eva Ansley: I’ve heard a lot of lawyers say it’s not a good idea to get close to your clients. Distance is healthy. But working with you showed me that that’s bullsh*t. You choose to get close to every one of them, and you love them like they are your family. And when your family is hurting, you’re hurting. There is no way that I could fully understand what it is that you’re going through. But I am pretty sure that you mean a lot more to this community than you think.
[visiting Walter in prison]
Bryan Stevenson: Walter, I’m so sorry.
Walter McMillian: The day I got arrested, I thought I was going to be okay, because I got the truth. Soon as they talk to everybody that was with me, they’re going to have to let me go. Then the police keep calling you a killer. Some white dude say he saw you do it. News people saying you did it. Judge and jury saying you did it. Now you on the row. Two, three, four years. Your friends, and your kids, they ain’t calling you like they used to. After a while, you start wondering what they think about you. You start wondering what you think about you. Truth ain’t so clear no more. But the last few days, I can’t stop thinking about Myers up there, telling everybody how it went down. That’s the first time I feel like myself since I’ve been locked up. First time I remembered who I is. These fools are going to do what they’re going to do. But if they take me to that chair tonight, I’m going out smiling, because I got my truth back. You gave that to me. To me and my family. And ain’t nobody going to take that from us.
Walter McMillian: You ain’t quitting, is you?
Bryan Stevenson: No, sir.
Walter McMillian: Then there ain’t no reason for you to say you’re sorry.
[to Walter’s family]
Bryan Stevenson: I know how disappointing the last hearing was, but that’s not where this is going to end. We’re preparing a motion to submit our evidence to the State Supreme Court in Montgomery. They have the power to reverse the last decision, and force the circuit court to give us a new trial.
Minnie McMillian: You think they’ll do that?
Bryan Stevenson: Nothing’s guaranteed. But I can’t see how an outside court can ignore the evidence that we have.
John McMillan: And then what? Even if he do get out there, everybody, but us still going to think he guilty. If they can’t kill him in there, they can still do it out here.
Bryan Stevenson: We’ve been worried about that too, and we’re working on something to help get the truth out.
[appealing to the judge to have Walter’s case dismissed]
Bryan Stevenson: If we say we’re committed to equal justice under law, to protecting the rights of every citizen, regardless of wealth, race, or status, then we have to end this nightmare for Walter McMillian and his family. The charges against him have been proven to be a false construction of desperate people, fueled by bigotry and bias, who ignored the truth in exchange for easy solutions, and that’s not the law. That’s not justice. That’s not right. I ask that this case be dismissed immediately, Your Honor.
[last lines; at the US Senate Hearing on the Death Penalty after Walter has been finally freed]
Bryan Stevenson: I came out of law school with grand ideas in my mind about how to change the world. But Mr. McMillian made me realize we can’t change the world with only ideas in our minds. We need conviction in our hearts. This man taught me how to stay hopeful, because I now know that hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hope allows us to push forward, even when the truth is distorted by the people in power. It allows us to stand up when they tell us to sit down, and to speak when they say be quiet. Through this work, I’ve learned that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. That the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. That the character of our nation isn’t reflected in how we treat the rich and the privileged, but how we treat the poor, the disfavored and condemned. Our system has taken more away from this innocent man than it has the power to give back. But I believe if each of us can follow his lead, we can change this world for the better. If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy. And perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace. Thank you.
Walter McMillian: I taught you all of that?
Bryan Stevenson: Yeah, you taught me some of that.
Walter McMillian: Pretty good, ain’t it?
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