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Brie Larson Reunites with ‘Short Term 12’ Director for ‘Just Mercy’

Destin Daniel Cretton is one of the most important directors of Larson’s career, and we can’t wait for their team-up for this vital activist movie.
Brie Larson The Glass Castle
By  · Published on August 9th, 2018

Destin Daniel Cretton is one of the most important directors of Larson’s career, and we can’t wait for their team-up for this vital activist movie.

Brie Larson’s rise through the ranks of Hollywood has been anything but meteoric; rather, it has been gradual over the last 20 years and, as a result, her success has been incredibly rewarding. We’re glad to hear more and more from Larson without worrying that she’s picking projects at random these days. She’s doing a stellar job deciding on the right jobs both mainstream and arthouse that fully foster her immense talent, and this latest casting announcement thankfully keeps that trend alive.

Variety reports that Larson will star opposite Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in Destin Daniel Cretton’s next feature, Just Mercy. Yep, Captain Marvel and Erik Killmonger (and more tangentially in the Marvel universe, Electro) will share the big screen. Co-written by Cretton and Andrew Lanham, who both worked on Cretton’s sophomore feature The Glass Castle, Just Mercy will be a courtroom drama based on the eponymous memoir of lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson (whom Jordan will be portraying).

Just Mercy centers on Stevenson’s early years out of law school. He began his legal career in the South and eventually founded the non-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to ensure that anyone “illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons” could have access to legal representation.

Stevenson was dedicated to helping the most disenfranchised clients, including women, children, and the poor, and his memoir details one of his first and most life-changing cases. In working to exonerate Walter McMillian (Foxx), who was immediately put on death row after he was wrongfully charged with the murder of a young white woman, Stevenson and readers alike go through a coming-of-age of sorts.

Part memoir and part true crime account, Stevenson’s haunting tome doesn’t hold back when providing heavy-duty statistical information about how the system of mass incarceration affects those in the most vulnerable communities. Furthermore, Stevenson’s deeply personalized account of racial injustice within the faulty American prison system lends an effective and poignant lens to the cases he describes.

Amid the shocking factual context, though, Stevenson is clearly a beacon of hope. Refreshingly for a memoir, the book isn’t actually necessarily about the lawyer himself. Stevenson is anything but showy when recounting his own admirable deeds. However, the cases speak for themselves, and his nobility is demonstrated through his actions.

Hence, as an adaptation, Just Mercy is bound to be one of the most important movies currently being pushed at Warner Bros. I’m wondering where Larson could be included in the story, as her role remains undisclosed for the time being. Looking at real-life figures that appear in McMillian’s case, she could perhaps fit in via an extended family situation, given that one of McMillian’s sons did marry a white woman (a fact that was used against McMillian alongside his own interracial affair). Of course, there’s no reason to rule out the fact that creative liberties could be taken and Larson could even play a totally fictional character. Such is the case for most biopics anyway.

Regardless of who Larson ends up playing, Just Mercy stacks up nicely alongside the rest of her filmography, particularly any of her films circa 2013. It all began with another Cretton collaboration: Short Term 12, which just so happens to be one of the most important movies in Larson’s career.

Larson keeps returning to work with Cretton, and who could blame her when they make such a fantastic team? Short Term 12 shot the actress to stardom and gave her a shot as a serious leading lady. Larson’s taxing and raw performance as the supervisor of a group home for troubled teens is a masterclass in just about every emotion imaginable. Larson’s character struggles to help others while keeping her own demons at bay, and she is fearless in her fragility when tackling such a complex role. She is basically the backbone of Short Term 12, and audiences will empathize with her only to get their hearts broken in the best possible way.

There’s something so real and honest about Short Term 12 that the next Larson/Cretton project, The Glass Castle, actually fell short. Hampered by a script that carelessly treats its truth-based material, the movie implores audiences to forgive characters who have done nothing to earn such a response. Yet for the record, Larson is a shining star as always; she makes The Glass Castle worth watching. She portrays the film’s protagonist with sharpness and emotional availability. If nothing else, the film showcases that Larson and Cretton still have a very special symbiosis as actor and director, and they can work together to draw out a worthy character.

Elsewhere, be it in the blockbusters she’s doing or other indie projects she signs up for (and directs! I absolutely cannot wait for Unicorn Store), Larson is putting her name towards films that truly matter. Room left us all devastated because of her chemistry with adorable child co-star Jacob Tremblay and the sheer love that Larson poured into her Oscar-winning performance. Her character in Kong: Skull Island may not have as much to do, but Larson makes the most of the few scenes that allow to really showcase her aptitude for empathy. And I’m not spoiling Free Fire, but Larson is the only woman in that film and also the absolute star.

As Larson heads into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to save the universe from the clutches of a certain bald purple villain, she continues to advocate through her work. Just Mercy is no different, and we are inexorably excited that she’ll get to explore more vital characters with Cretton once again.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)