Just Mercy

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Just Mercy Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Effective, intense drama about racism and justice; swearing.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 136 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 13 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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." 

Sex

During a forced strip-search, Bryan is shown shirtless; he removes his pants and underwear below the frame. Sex-related dialogue.

Language

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."

Consumerism

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.

What 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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 15-year-old Written byAdrienne G. January 11, 2020

Important viewing for young adults.

I require my children to read books about the criminal justice system in the U.S. as part of their middle-grade education. They read things like "The Hate... Continue reading
Adult Written byefqwefqeg May 17, 2020

I cried a lot in this movie

I thought this movie was very inspiring! My older son actually said this movie contains strong messages about standing up! I cried a lot in this movie; it was s... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byLuna Anne March 27, 2020

Just Mercy- 15+

It is a fantastic movie full of great messages about justice. It features wonderful role models (male and female). However, parts of it are upsetting and confro... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 23, 2020

Moving movie about justice and racism

Just Mercy is a very powerful movie that opened my eyes to all the unfair sentences and executions made because of racism. I think the movie was incredibly movi... Continue reading

What's the story?

In JUST MERCY, young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) decides, after completing an internship helping Death Row inmates, to devote himself to the cause full-time. He moves to Monroeville, Alabama (home of Harper Lee), teams up with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), and starts focusing on the case of Walter "Johnny D." McMillian (Jamie Foxx). Johnny D. was accused and convicted of killing a teen girl based on the testimony of two unreliable witnesses. Bryan thinks it will be easy to prove that Johnny D. was nowhere near the crime scene at the time of the murder, but he quickly finds that the white establishment in Alabama isn't so eager to allow a convicted murderer back out on the street, no matter what the evidence says. Can Bryan find justice for his client?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Just Mercy's violence. Given that the movie chooses not to show its most violent acts, does that make the movie less violent?

  • Is Bryan Stevenson a role model? How does he demonstrate perseverance?

  • How does the movie portray racism? How about the relationship between racism and justice/the law?

  • How accurate do you think this movie is to events as they actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in a movie that's based on a true story? Check out the documentary version of Bryan's story.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird is referenced many times in this movie. How does that story compare to this one?

Movie details

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