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- Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
This issue’s installment of our Road To Oscar Series includes a DP and an editor affirming the importance of doing justice to a character--whether fictional or real. On the latter score, editor Nat Sanders, ACE reflected on Just Mercy (Warner Bros.), directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
Just Mercy stars Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School grad who co-founded Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative in the 1980s to defend death row prisoners, mostly people of color. Among them is the wrongly accused Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) who in 1988 was sentenced to death for the murder of a local young white woman. Based on Stevenson’s 2014 book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” the film does justice to this activist attorney, and his commitment to his clients, opening our eyes to such issues as judicial reform, the death penalty and racial profiling.
Sanders said, “People might think it was heavy or depressing to be working on such intense subject matter but it was actually kind of the opposite. It felt inspiring. We had a sense of purpose, responsibility and pride, feeling the call to get Bryan’s message out there to a larger audience.”
However, there can also be a higher calling for telling a fictional character’s story--in this case Arthur Fleck whom we see evolve into the Joker. Lawrence Sher, ASC lensed Joker (Warner Bros.) for director Todd Phillips, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Fleck/Joker. Phillips and Sher departed from the comic book movie norm, teaming on a character study of social outcast Fleck who lives in a world of despair, alienation and bullying, which sheds light on how the Joker came to be, even evoking empathy for him at times.
Sher said that Joker affirms that “you can combine art and commerce. We were able to be artful and put that side of filmmaking to the forefront and it didn’t hurt the commerce. Art at times can feel self-conscious and isolating to the audience. But in this film, we were able to combine these two forces--great mass appeal serving the commerce side while also feeling uncompromised from the artistic side. As challenging and difficult as it was at times, this movie has resonated for audiences. The big picture takeaway is that audiences are cool with being challenged--they don’t just want things to be cotton candy easy. They want something different.”