The Holocaust is a challenging subject that various filmmakers take on. To make it an even greater challenge, how does one present such an event from the perspective of a child? With Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi takes a typically quirky approach, presenting not only the persecution of Jews but also Nazism and the power of nationalist populism from the position of a young protagonist, the eponymous and rather charming Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis). Jojo is a devoted member of the Hitler Youth who attends gatherings with the flavour of summer camps (with added grenades), but who also encounters alternative views from his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) as well as the cynical Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). Jojo bolsters his belief that Nazism is cool by creating imaginary friend Adolf (Waititi), as well as absurd notions about the dangers of Jews, all of which are complicated when he encounters reality in the form of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). In this rather convoluted set up, Waititi veers between social commentary to slapstick humour to dark and even tragic incidents. The massive shifts in tone make for a less than satisfying experience, and Waititi does not explore in depth the fascinating ideas suggested throughout the film. However, there is genuine humour here as well as heart and soul, and while the satire is about as subtle as the moustache on Adolf’s face, Jojo Rabbit is still an interesting commentary on the appeal of populism as well as the vulnerabilities of propaganda.
Just Mercy is striking for what it isn’t. A courtroom drama based on an actual miscarriage of justice, that exposes entrenched and largely accepted racial prejudice, that hinges on the tireless efforts of a courageous lawyer, played by hot young thing Michael B. Jordan, with a supporting cast that includes Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. This might lead to grand standing courtroom histrionics, ‘Objection!’ ‘Sustained!’, intense legal research that makes watching people read seem dramatic, emotional breakdowns on the witness stand, etc. But if you expect A Few Good Men or A Time To Kill, you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, Just Mercy is a more reserved and sombre affair that relies on performance, dialogue and tiny gestures. Director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a somewhat staid milieu, favouring slow and reflective dialogue over dynamic visuals. At times, the film can feel rather theatrical, but Cretton’s pays great attention to faces, turning the features of his stars into impressive canvasses on which he tells this powerful and important true story.