Published on: June 12, 2020
Just Mercy, the 2019 legal drama based on a memoir by Bryan Stevenson, is a movie that seems made for the racial strife of the moment - which is why Warner Bros. decided to make it available all month for free home streaming on a variety of platforms. I urge you to take advantage of the offer, because Just Mercy is a terrific film, and would be under any circumstances.
The film looks at how Stevenson, as a young lawyer just out of Harvard, moves to Alabama to found the Equal Justice Initiative. The goal is to represent convicts who were not provided with adequate legal representation. They all are poor, and most are black.
Most of the film focuses on Walter McMillian, known as "Johnnie D," who was wrongly convicted of murder and is on death row; the conviction, as Stevenson finds out, is based on perjured testimony, and the issue is how to get him into the appeals process in a way that can circumvent institutional prejudice.
The legal drama is fascinating, and would be a good film all on its own. But what gives the movie so much currency is the way it unfolds while in the real world we are seeing in-the-moment examples of justice corrupted, of people whose rights have been violated simply because of then color of their skin. The sheriff who arrested McMillan isn't a caricature, because we've seen a far worse version of the character with his boot against a black man's neck. When Stevenson goes for a jog, the scene is nerve-wracking because current events have taught us what can happen to black men who go jogging.
In some ways, I have to believe that Just Mercy is far more of an edge-of-your-seat thriller than it was when it opened simply because of we know more. And by "we," I mean people like me who haven't had to live with the disadvantage of being black and dealing with a system stacked against us.
Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as McMillan are spectacular in their roles - they never overplay, but find the simple, evocative moments that make them eminently relatable. And Brie Larson, playing the Alabama woman who helped Stevenson and in doing so put herself and her family at risk against an unfriendly community, is excellent in a small but critical role.
Just Mercy is a must-see - it manages to be both an entertaining film and a criminal justice lesson without getting preachy or dogmatic.
Somehow, despite the fact that there have been 30 Lucas Davenport novels by John Sandford (in addition to the two dozen or so other books that he has written), I'd never read one. Not sure why. In the beginning, I guess they just weren't on my radar, even though the Davenport books are in my favorite genre. Then, there was a terrible USA Network movie with Mark Harmon in the lead, and I think that sort of put me off.
But the publisher, who sends me books from time to time in the hope that I'll review them, sent me a copy of the most recent, "Masked Prey," recently. Because of the pandemic, I'm not getting out much, and I've been on a bit of a reading tear, and so I settled down with the book to see what it was made of.
And loved it.
I'm coming to the series late, and so I'm picking up some of the backstory as I go along. Davenport, as I understand it, is a former Minnesota police detective turned US Marshal, and in "Masked Prey," he is brought to Washington, DC, to deal with a case in which the children of elected officials have been put at risk, perhaps so someone will be able to extort their parents. Davenport finds himself doing a deep dive into extremist right wing groups and Nazi sympathizers who want to undermine - or just destroy - government and the "deep state" that they believe controls it. It all seems entirely and disturbingly plausible.
"Masked Prey" is an entertaining novel … and I think I need to go back and revisit some of the series' earlier books. Should be plenty of time this summer…
Had a chance to enjoy a glass of the 2019 The Palm by Whispering Angel, a burdensome name for a light and fresh rosé that is a less expensive version, at about $15 per bottle, of its slightly more expensive ($22) big brother. It is well worth it - it is from Provence, France, and is made of a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, and who could ask for anything more.
That's it for this week. Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.
Stay safe. Stay healthy.