Cretton’s ‘Mercy’ a movie of heroes
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.”