A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Every life has meaning. Very strong messages about importance of doing the right thing, no matter the odds, fighting hard for those who need it the most, and problematic relationship between bigotry and justice. Black people in a small, Southern town are targeted by the law based on how they look, and movie clearly points out how wrong that is. It also depicts what an uphill battle it is to change hearts and minds; this is about one small victory in a bigger fight.
Positive Role Models
Bryan Stevenson is portrayed as a very positive role model, achieving his law degree from Harvard, deliberately choosing to work in a place that could be physically dangerous to him, working for free for the folks who need him most. He faces difficult odds, keeps persevering. Eva is also a positive role model, giving her time and her house to the cause, though she has less to do, is seen here mainly offering her support for Bryan. Walter has made some poor choices in the past, but he's no murderer, and once his faith in Bryan is established, he works hard to help with his case.
Violence & Scariness
Upsetting execution scene that includes pretty much everything except the actual death. A police officer points his gun at the main character. Character is beaten. Spoken references to violence, including a murder ("strangled and shot"), the planting of a bomb, and a character being burned. Hateful, racism-motivated acts (forced strip-search, etc.). Moments of anger/rage. Implied suicide attempt. A character is told to "bend over and spread."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
During a forced strip-search, Bryan is shown shirtless; he removes his pants and underwear below the frame. Sex-related dialogue.
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Language includes multiple uses of "s--t" and the "N" word, plus "bulls--t," "son of a bitch," "bitch," "ass," "shut your mouth," and "damn."
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Products & Purchases
Dr. Pepper vending machine shown, Coke mentioned. Sunkist orange soda mentioned and shown. Jujyfruits candy mentioned and shown. Jif peanut butter jar shown.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Beer. Cigarette smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Just Mercy is a fact-based courtroom drama that tackles the subjects of racism and the death penalty. It centers on idealistic young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who travels to Alabama to help save a wrongfully convicted man on Death Row (Jamie Foxx). It has strong language, including multiple uses of "s--t" and the "N" word. There are also some violent and/or upsetting scenes, including a police officer pointing his gun at Bryan's head and the lead-up to a character's death by execution. But violence is primarily conveyed through dialogue, including discussions of murder (shooting and strangulation), the planting of a bomb, and a character getting burned. There are also moments of anger and hate/racism. Bryan is forced to strip for a search; he's humiliated as he removes his shirt and (below the frame) pants and underwear. There's also brief, mild sex-related dialogue, and brief smoking and beer drinking. The story isn't surprising, but it's very effective, with clear messages of perseverance, the importance of doing the right thing, fighting hard for those who need it the most, and the problematic relationship between bigotry and justice. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
It follows a pretty traditional arc, but this prison/courtroom drama is still effectively tense and moving thanks to fine performances and the picture it presents of simmering racial injustice. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Just Mercy almost always feels like a movie. All of the familiar beats, speeches, and plot turns happen just when they're supposed to, without the messiness of life coming into it (as it did so vividly in Cretton's remarkable breakthrough feature, Short Term 12). But the film quickly establishes a good sense of place, from Bryan suffering the indignities of being Black in Alabama to the large gathering of friends and neighbors at the home of Johnny D.'s family when Bryan goes to see them.
Just Mercy also offers a slate of solid supporting characters -- including a subtly menacing district attorney (Rafe Spall), a candy-munching convict (Tim Blake Nelson), and Johnny D.'s next-cell neighbors on Death Row (O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Rob Morgan) -- all of whom add to the movie's texture. Then, as the pieces of the puzzle come together, occasionally blocked by bigotry and corruption, the tension and excitement start to ramp up. The final piece is Foxx, who's very good as Johnny D., hardened and reluctant to hope anymore. In the moments he does actually find hope, his emotion is palpable.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.