A trainee lawyer helps death row inmates in this stirring drama based on the work of attorney Bryan Stevenson. Michael B Jordan (‘Creed’, ‘Black Panther’) is on fine form as the young Harvard graduate who offers free legal services to men like Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who’s been sentenced to death for murdering a white woman in Alabama in 1986. The more Stevenson probes the case, the more preposterous the ‘evidence’ begins to appear, but he faces opposition from racist cops and DAs.
It’s an inspiring tale that’s told in a traditional fashion, with lots of plain speaking to make sure audiences are receiving its messaging loud and clear. But the steady hand of director Cretton (‘Short Term 12’) is aided by a strong cast who keep the tone just the right side of sentimental. Jamie Foxx is terrific as the condemned man who’s almost lost all hope, buoyed only by the solidarity of his fellow convicts (including O’Shea Jackson Jr). Brie Larson underplays it nicely as Stevenson’s colleague, while Rafe Spall injects dark humour as a district attorney whose breezy manner is a thin veil over his prejudice. And it’s hard to imagine anyone but the brilliant Tim Blake Nelson playing troubled convict Ralph Myers, on whose testimony the conviction is based.
The frustrating injustices and what feels like a prolonged execution scene mean this isn’t always an easy watch, but it’s an ultimately heart-warming one that argues passionately for justice, community and kindness – timely indeed.