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Non-Review Review: Just Mercy

Just Mercy feels like a timely and relevant update to the classic death row prestige picture.

The bulk of Just Mercy unfolds over six years, between 1987 and 1993. This roughly overlaps with a cinematic interest in this subject matter in the late eighties and into the nineties. Mississippi Burning and A Time to Kill looked at the racially-charged dimension of criminal justice in the American South, released in 1988 and 1996 respectively. Dead Man Walking and The Chamber tackled anxieties around the death penalty in 1995 and 1996. Indeed, Just Mercy feels like something of a companion piece to these explorations of the American criminal justice system.

Courting public opinion.

These sorts of films have become increasingly rare in recent years, largely driven by changes in the market. The death of the mid-budget movie has had a major impact on these sorts of projects, with the most recent major examples being films like The Hurricane in 1999 and The Life of David Gale in 2003. These sorts of projects have largely migrated to television and arguably podcasts, developed as limited series like The Night Of or Now They See Us. As such, it’s rare to see a film like this receiving that sort of awards push.

However, what is truly interesting about Just Mercy is the way in which it doesn’t just revive the starry prestige criminal justice drama, it also modernises it. Just Mercy might be set against the backdrop of the late eighties and early nineties, but it feels undeniably current in how it approaches that familiar subject matter.


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