How ‘Just Mercy’ Gets Close to Its Characters | Anatomy of a Scene

Two death row inmates seek a moment of solace and reflection in this scene from the drama “Just Mercy.”

The film is based on the memoir of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has devoted most of his career to getting justice for those who have been wrongfully convicted or denied a fair trial. Here, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is in the cell adjacent to Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), whose execution date is imminent. As Herbert loses hope, Walter has him do a breathing and visualization exercise.

Narrating the scene, Cretton cites a thought from Stevenson’s book about not being able to fully understand a problem unless you get close to it. “There is power in proximity,” Stevenson has said in lectures. Cretton mirrors this idea in the way he shoots the scene, through a pair of tight close-ups on each character. The scene was shot with two cameras simultaneously so that the conversation between the characters on either side of the wall could be captured in a more free-form way.

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