Tag: Jamie Foxx

Just Mercy

jmVerdict: A conventional but engaging true story of judicial injustice.

True stories are never the easiest ones to tell. Beholden to a number of restrictions, among them that pesky thing called “the truth”, Just Mercy’s writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) appears to have cautiously tiptoed through this minefield with a very straight-laced retelling of the racially charged Johnny D McMillian case.

Set in Alabama’s deep south, Just Mercy tells the tale of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a lawyer fresh from Harvard, who makes the unenviable decision to represent death-row prisoners. Stevenson has been (and continues to be) a strong advocate for American legal reform and social justice and his defence of McMillian (Jamie Foxx), which this film focuses on, is a damning statement on the American judiciary system.

The death penalty sentence dished out to McMillian built entirely on the back of a false testimony from Ralph Myers, (a convicted white felon seeking a reduced sentence—played by a wonderfully jittery Tim Blake Nelson) despite there being multiple black accounts to the contrary, lends this film a solid platform to make some pointed statements on race and justice. It’s a compelling story, made even more remarkable by Stevenson who has since exposed the staggering statistic that one in nine prisoners on death-row have since been exonerated.

However, as well-intended as this retelling is, it’s a film that might’ve been better served with a narrower focus. Just Mercy’s impact is unfortunately diluted by peripheral characters who seem to distract rather than solicit emotional buy-in to the Stevenson/McMillian relationship (Brie Larsen’s token white office-worker among them). Furthermore, Cretton appears to shy away from using artistic licence to sell the story, which is a shame because Just Mercy operates best in the fleeting moments where artistic embellishments surface.

But despite missed opportunities, what rises out of the carcass of conventionality are some impressive performances, in particular, Jordan whose measured take on a man with a heart pained by racial injustice elevates this film above the typical prestige drama template. While Just Mercy is conventional it certainly holds your attention.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Baby Driver

bdLike all Edgar Wright movies, Baby Driver is a kinetically charged explosion of style. A lively thrill from start to end laced with musical sensibilities. But considering his previous work (Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, to name a couple) this should come as no surprise. He is a restless director who seemingly enjoys turning simple plot-lines into hyper-jazzed feature length films … and he does it so well.

Ansel Elgort is the eponymous Baby. A talented getaway driver forever in debt to a criminal king-pin named Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Baby suffers tinnitus, a “hum in the drum” as the po-faced Kevin Spacey describes, meaning he wears earbuds with a carefully chosen iPod playlist to drown out the constant ringing—a distraction which he finds insufferable. The iPod also provides the soundtrack to his life. He is, in a sense, living in a musical as exemplified in an early scene (that ventures unabashedly into La La Land opening sequence territory) where Baby dances down the street to Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle.

Baby Driver is a fine example of a genre film owing a lot to the crime, heist, and car-chase films of yesteryear.  But its musical sensibilities are what sets it apart in which everything is cut and choreographed very sharply to Baby’s pumping iPod soundtrack. The result provides a modern-retro vibe.  Yes, iPods are now retro (*sigh* … I feel so old).

Elgort’s background in dance is a casting choice that pays off—his sense of movement to the music being vital to the entire movie.  Wright also gets solid (if somewhat predictable) performances from his supporting A-listers. It’s an ensemble cast of pretty big hitters who all seem to be enjoying themselves.  Jon Hamm stands out as a delightfully loathsome Casanova. Fox and Spacey are in fine scenery chewing form, and a twee young-love subplot comes courtesy of Lily James.

By no means perfect, Baby Driver does threaten at times to become an overcooked mess stomping heavily on well-used tropes and pumping out every cliche in the book, but thankfully Wright’s pin-sharp direction keeps things in check. He knows exactly what to do with this material and never loses sight of his audience. Baby Driver is a joy to watch and it’s clear that Wright loves making cinema. This is a pure cinema rush.

You can see my published reviews here.

Django Unchained

One thing about watching a Tarantino film is that you know what you’re in for. Sometimes he surprises, but more often than not it is an over-the-top ultra stylistic violent romp through a scape dripping with cool tunes. This is no different. It’s an incredibly attractive film with charismatic performances from Waltz (I can’t fault this Oscar nod), Jackson, DiCaprio, and Foxx. Above all this is a commentary on the struggle for freedom. Specifically the black struggle for freedom, but can be applied to any of the oppressed in our world. Despite its obvious inaccuracies, the narrative can only be interpreted as empowering for blacks … I cannot understand any argument to the contrary.

Technically a little disjointed and aimless in parts, I still found Django Unchained entertaining, disturbing, and enlightening. Although I still have to question if the gratuitous violence is necessary; it has become such a trademark of Tarantino that its inclusion seems necessitated by audience expectations and thus risks obscuring of the film’s message.

See the trailer and my rating here.

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Django Unchained