Just Mercy is a testament to what talented actors can do with material that might otherwise be stifling. Based on the life and work of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney who established a nonprofit to provide legal assistance to prisoners on death row, the movie is carried by stellar performances from Michael B. Jordan, as Stevenson, and Jamie Foxx as Walter MacMillian, an innocent death row inmate whose conviction Stevenson works tirelessly to overturn. Foxx gives real bite to MacMillian’s bitter resignation, while Michael B. Jordan layers the righteous indignation he brings to most of his roles with hints of repressed rage and stalwart determination. There’s an early scene in which Stevenson, trying to visit MacMillian for the first time in prison, is told he must be strip searched before he’s allowed in. During the silent moments that follow, notes of stubborn dignity and sorrowful shame do battle on Jordan’s face. Adapted from Stevenson’s book by director Dustin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), Just Mercy is mostly workmanlike, though there are a few flourishes here and there—including a brief moment in which a breathing exercise transports MacMillian to the peaceful pine groves where he used to work—that match the performances, bringing what could have been a staid, if inspiring, story to vibrant life.