Film Analysis: JUST MERCY


  • My film for my analysis is Just Mercy, a legal drama based on the true story of Harvard lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and convicted murderer, Walter ‘Johnny D’ Macmillan and the death penalty.
  • I chose this film because of the current event situation with the death penalty.

Film Analysis

Film TitleJust Mercy
DirectorDestin Daniel Cretton
GenreDrama/Legal Drama

As you view films, consider how the cuts, camera angles, shots, and movement work to create particular meanings. Think about how they establish space, privilege certain characters, suggest relationships, and emphasize themes. In addition to shot distances, angles, editing, and camera movement, note details of the narrative, setting, characters, lighting, props, costume, tone, and sound.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Who is the protagonist?Bryan Stevenson
2. Who is the antagonist?The state of Alabama’s Death Penalty
3. What is the conflict?Walter McMillan is convicted of the Death Penalty for a crime that he did not commit.
4. What is the theme? (summarize in one or two words)Innocence and Justice
5. How is the story told (linear, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, at regular intervals)The storyline is linear and occasionally jumps to future dates and continues from there.
6. What “happens” in the plot (Brief description)?Bryan Stevenson, a young lawyer, moves to Alabama in search of bringing justice to victims of people unjustly convicted of the death penalty. He finds many cases that he could help with, one of which being the case of Walter ‘Johnny D’ Macmillan.
7. How does the film influence particular reactions on the part of viewers (sound, editing,
characterization, camera movement, etc.)? Why does the film encourage such
It is filmed in such a way that makes the viewer get a sense of suspense in a way and feel really connected to the characters. The lighting in the film and the colorization really intrigued me too. I loved how there was a yellow-orange effect to it, this is reflected in the main poster image.
8. Is the setting realistic or stylized? What atmosphere does the setting suggest? Do
particular objects or settings serve symbolic functions?
The setting of the film was realistic, it was based in the ’80s and early ’90s and it was well-reflected throughout. The setting of the interview room where Bryan was able to talk to his clients one on one was super important because a lot of important scenes that helped their cases occurred here.
9. How are the characters costumed and made-up? What does their clothing or makeup
reveal about their social standing, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or age? How do
costume and makeup convey character?
The makeup and costuming of Just Mercy were exceptionally well done. It showed the aspect of social standing and the time period impeccably. You could see the differences in both of the socio-economic standings caused by the systemic racism in Alabama.
10. How does the lighting design shape our perception of character, space, or mood?You can see the difference in moods of the film wherein the outside world is brighter which reflects a happier and more hopeful feeling. Inside the cells, the electric chair room, and the entire prison as a whole there is a darker light and feeling. This makes the setting feel more doomed and much less hopeful.
11. How do camera angles and camera movements shape our view of characters or
spaces? What do you see cinematically?
The camera angles and movements helped shape our views of the characters and spaces because close up angles of the characters helped us create an emotional bond with the character. For instance, there was a person named Herb who was convicted on the penalty without the jury and judge knowing the extent of PTSD and hurt that he went through after losing his entire group during the war. The angles and shots of Herb and his emotions in the jail cell created such a bond with his character and it really affected me.
12. What is the music’s purpose in the film? How does it direct our attention within the
image? How does it shape our interpretation of the image? What stands out about
the music?
I can’t remember all too much use of music in the film that stood out completely to me. There was the use of music however to elevate a certain mood or feeling that just a scene couldn’t create the impact that they were going for.
13. How might industrial, social, and economic factors have influenced the film? Describe
how this film influences or connects to a culture?
This film was extremely impacted by social factors. The racism in Alabama created a lack of justice and an unfair disadvantage for black people in the justice system. One person’s only ‘evidence’ was that they ‘looked like the type of person who would do that.’ Still, to this day 1 in 9 people who are convicted of the death penalty are innocent but are still called guilty because of a lack of evidence, representation, or numerous other reasons. The justice system would be a fair, true, and honest system created and enforced to be unbiased and truly find and get the people that are doing unlawful things rehabilitated and punished for the crimes. But, the lack of this especially with the fatal punishment of a death penalty needs to be reformed.
14. Give an example of what a film critic had to say about this filmUse credible sources and cite sourcesExample: “The Shawshank Redemption Movie Review (1994) | Roger Ebert.” All
Content. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2015.
According to the films Wikipedia page, Rotten Tomatoes rated this film an average of 84% positive reviews and a 7.95/10 rating.
15. Select one scene no longer than 5 minutes that represents well the whole film and
shows relevant cinematic elements. Explain why.
The scene I chose was the scene of the final hearing for Johhny D. This was such a monumental scene that the entire form had been building up to. SPOILERS AHEAD! The scene is so important because the emotions in the film go from suspense to joyous in an instant when he gets complete innocence and freedom.
16. In the selected scene: write a sentence for each of the elements below:
a. Screenwriting:The screenwriting is very impactful and it starts from the true story f how it went down.
b. Sound Design:The sound design is simple and it is just the sounds from the people.
c. Camera Movements:The camera is set up on the faces of Johnny D and Bryan and switched to them from the GA making his final statement.
d. Light Setup:The lights are dramatic and hopeful.
e. Soundtrack:No soundtrack.
18. What’s the socio-cultural context of this film?The socio-cultural context of this film is racism and the death penalty.

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