A just-terrific Jamie Foxx does much for ‘Just Mercy’

Michael B. Jordan in “Just Mercy”

Movie history is filled with law dramas that have benefited from fine teamwork by the actors who play attorney and client, and now there’s another one.

“Just Mercy” stars Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”) as a Southern lawyer who makes a specialty of taking up the cases of wrongly convicted inmates on death row. One such prisoner is played by Jamie Foxx, and his claim of innocence in the death of a young woman goes unheard by local authorities, due in large part to the interracial overtones of the crime.

Enter the Harvard graduate played by Jordan, but his good intentions are met with skepticism by just about everyone … including the convict himself, who’s had enough disappointments in his journey through the legal system and is resigned to his apparent fate. However, assisted by a paralegal played by Brie Larson, the lawyer finally manages to get through to his intended client and their work to overturn the conviction begins.

Obviously, director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton involves a lot of good actors in “Just Mercy” – also including Tim Blake Nelson as a questionable witness – but the real revelation is Jamie Foxx. He largely stifles his usual charisma, which is a requirement of his role here, and he’s extremely effective in a different kind of performance for him.

There’s always been a certain edge to Foxx’s acting (as one terrific reminder, go back to his breakthrough role in “Any Given Sunday”), but it’s been tempered a bit by stardom and the trappings of Hollywood blockbusters. “Just Mercy” gives him the chance to get raw again, and he seizes it as a man who’s lost virtually every shred of hope … except for the vestige that it takes every effort by his would-be savior to pull to the forefront.

Larson surely is another bankable name to have here, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do in the picture. Still, it’s understandable why she took the part; she’s worked with filmmaker Cretton a number of times, and if only out of loyalty on her part, her presence makes sense.

However, there’s no question of who the movie belongs to in the end. It’s always gratifying to see a proven performer attempt something new when he’s well along in his career, and in doing that, Jamie Foxx is just great in “Just Mercy.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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