In Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy,” based on a true story, we meet and follow a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (a stiff Michael B.Jordan).

Bryan, armed with a degree from Harvard Law, returns to his native south and lands in Alabama, determined to spend his life and career defending the innocent victims of the state’s racist, unjust, criminally biased justice system.

We know from the first scene that this is no “In the Heat of the Night” drama. This is a drama based on truth, and we all know by now that in America, the truth can be messy.

The story is centered in the Alabama of the 1980s. Bryan, of course, finds his first steps have landed him in a landmine of racism, bigotry and judicial malfeasance, and surprise, surprise, his work town happens to house the Harper Lee Museum honoring the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Bryan’s job is, if he chooses it, to defend a black man, wrongfully convicted of killing a young white woman.

Having given us that information at the beginning, do we wait for convicted black man Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) to be shot down in an attempt to escape? Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. Stevenson is hired by a local advocate (a calm Brie Larson) with a justice group that like many of such groups in the south have sprung from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bryan, drowning in a river of all black male cases, runs a gauntlet of such cases that are defeated by a cast of stereotypical all white, deeply racist southerners, given scripts full of dialogue blatantly stolen from such classics as “Mississippi Burning,” “Heat of the Night” and naturally, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Briefly put, move along, nothing new to see here but earnest, professional work by the three leads.

Jordan, Larson and Foxx, and even the white players who are forced to embrace cardboard cutout characters, walk bravely through this cotton field of cliches, stereotypes and setups. Jordan and Foxx have clearly done their homework and stick to what they’ve learned about the real people they’re playing, which results in two characters facing execution and disbarment, with the passion of two men who have just lost out on “America Has Talent,” which gives us America’s most brilliant character actor, Tim Blake Nelson, (“O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Ballad of Buster Scruggs,”) a golden, once in a lifetime chance to glow so brightly that he leaves the lead players in semi-darkness. In other words, this is Nelson’s third chance at a Best Supporting nomination.

Larson, whose work I’m not familiar with, looks good but has little to do but research old facts and hand files to her partner, Jordan, gaze at him as he suffers and hand him more files. Basically, “Just Mercy” is just ground so well trod that despite director Cretton’s earnest plowing, nothing can grow there.

We already know this about Alabama — from 1981 to 1993, part of the time depicted in this film, Jeff Sessions, former United States Attorney General and U.S. Senator, served then as the United States attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Next question?

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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