“Bait” and “Just Mercy,” two very different films, are coming to the M.V. Film Center on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. Both are outstanding, and well worth watching. “Bait” tells the tale of a fisherman in a traditional Cornwall, England, fishing village confronting the challenge from encroaching tourism. “Just Mercy” looks at the unfair imprisonment and planned execution of a black man in Alabama.
“Bait” is a highly innovative film about the struggles fisherman Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) has with the tourist culture threatening to take over a small coastal town that has depended for years on the fishing industry. Martin’s brother Steve (Giles King) has given in to the tourist trade, using their late father’s boat to take tourists on excursions.
Martin has conflicts with the London family that bought the Ward family home, modernizing it, to his dismay. Steve’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) sides with Martin, helping him fish onshore with nets and a lobster trap. Martin is saving his money in hopes of buying his own boat. He sells fish to his neighbors and bar owner Mrs. Peters. Teenagers fit into the conflicts as well, with Katie Leigh, daughter of the London family, taking up with Neil, which her brother Hugo resents.
What makes this film so powerful and unique is the techniques director Mark Jenkin uses. The 4:3 screen ratio creates a boxy, old-fashioned look, and he employs 16-mm stock and a vintage wind-up Bolex cine camera. These devices give the film a distinctive, grainy look, with scratches and marks. In addition to writing and shooting “Bait,” Jenkin filmed it without sound, adding sound in post-production. Extreme close-ups add to the film’s unusual look, as well as the abrupt, sometimes out-of-sequence edits. “Bait” can be a challenge to watch. Its uniqueness couldn’t be further from a traditional Hollywood film.
“Just Mercy” tells how a black man, Walter McMillian, played by Jamie Foxx, was put on death row for the murder of a white teenage girl. Told in conventional Hollywood style, the film is based on the real story of how celebrated activist Bryan Stevenson, also black and played by Michael B. Jordan, works as a lawyer to free McMillian. The film is based on Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” A strong cast lends weight to this film.
Stevenson moves to Alabama after graduating from Harvard Law School, and commits himself to freeing death row inmates who have been unjustly convicted. The film focuses on McMillian, whose case is a clear example of railroading an innocent man.
Stevenson accumulates evidence that shows McMillian could not have been responsible for the murder. Tim Blake Nelson plays Ralph Nelson, the convicted felon who falsely testified that McMillian was the killer to get his own sentence reduced. Nelson plays a key role in the story.
Brie Larson, who won a 2016 Best Actress Oscar for “Room,” plays Eva Ansley, Stevenson’s assistant at the Equal Justice Initiative. That Montgomery-based nonprofit was founded by Stevenson in 1989, and provides legal representation to wrongly convicted prisoners, poor prisoners without legal aid, and those who haven’t had a fair trial.
The power of “Just Mercy” comes from its compelling narration of the kind of legal misprision that leads to executions. The only state that doesn’t provide legal aid to death row prisoners, Alabama does not fare well in the film.
Information and tickets for this and other Film Center films are available at mvfilmsociety.com, and check entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown for films playing at Edgartown’s Entertainment Cinema.