Cret­ton’s ‘Mercy’ a movie of he­roes

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Jen Yam­ato

When Destin Daniel Cret­ton be­gins film­ing Marvel’s highly an­tic­i­pated “Shang-Chi and the Leg­end of the Ten Rings” in the new year, he’ll con­sider it the sec­ond su­per­hero movie he will have made.

The first is “Just Mercy” star­ring Michael B. Jor­dan as civil rights de­fense lawyer Bryan Steven­son, whose ca­reer­long cru­sade to save in­di­vid­u­als from the death penalty and ef­fect crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form is about to get its own ori­gin story on­screen.

Af­ter an awards-qual­i­fy­ing run in lim­ited re­lease be­gin­ning Christ­mas Day, the film will open na­tion­wide on Jan. 10. But the at­tor­ney and ac­tivist at the cen­ter of “Just Mercy” en­tered the Hol­ly­wood spot­light in Au­gust af­ter a spe­cial screen­ing of the film in Los An­ge­les, when Cret­ton and ac­tors Jor­dan, Brie Lar­son and Jamie Foxx — all of whom have Marvel movies on their re­sumes — as­sem­bled for an emo­tional Q&A. They were joined by Steven­son, who drew the big­gest ap­plause.

Based on the 2014 New York Times best­selling mem­oir “Just Mercy: A Story of Jus­tice and Re­demp­tion,” the film stars Jor­dan as the Delawareb-orn Steven­son, an ea­ger young at­tor­ney whose com­pas­sion is awak­ened while work­ing with clients on death row in the Deep South.

Foxx co-stars as Wal­ter

“These char­ac­ters are so hu­man, and I just felt like I knew them.”

— Destin Daniel Cret­ton, writer and di­rec­tor

McMil­lian, an African Amer­i­can pulp­wood worker sent to Alabama’s death row in 1988 for the mur­der of a white woman, who main­tains his in­no­cence as his clock ticks down and his ten­u­ous hopes for ex­on­er­a­tion fade.

Di­rect­ing a script he wrote with An­drew Lan­ham, Cret­ton tracks Steven­son’s fight to over­turn McMil­lian’s death sen­tence and those of other in­mates sen­tenced to die in Alabama, the only U.S. state that does not pro­vide post­con­vic­tion le­gal aid to the con­demned.

It charts the early work with ad­vo­cate Eva Ans­ley (Lar­son) that led to the 1989 found­ing of the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive, a non­profit ded­i­cated to bat­tling racial and eco­nomic in­jus­tice, mass in­car­cer­a­tion and ex­ces­sive pun­ish­ment.

Os­car-nom­i­nated pro­ducer Gil Net­ter (“The

Blind Side,” “Life of Pi”) op­tioned “Just Mercy” and ap­proached Cret­ton to di­rect. Cret­ton read the book and found him­self cry­ing — and, to his sur­prise, laugh­ing — in cof­fee shops as he pored over Steven­son’s el­e­gantly pointed and poignant writ­ing.

“These char­ac­ters are so hu­man, and I just felt like I knew them,” Cret­ton re­mem­bered. “I felt like they were my friends. By the end of this book, where you’re con­fronted with so many harsh truths, you ex­pect to be de­pressed. But I some­how felt re­ally hope­ful and in­spired.”

Now based in Los An­ge­les and fa­ther to a tod­dler, Cret­ton ad­mits he didn’t al­ways feel that way. “To me it’s re­ally hard to be both in­formed and yet hope­ful … and that, to me, is the power of Bryan Steven­son and his work.”

CHRIS PIZZELLO/IN­VI­SION

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