Seriously Good Films for January 2020

In a roundup of reviews from Bill Newcott, these films for grown-ups tackle death row injustices, opals in the rough, and podcast redemption.

Scene from the film, Just Mercy
(Courtesy Warner Bros)

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Just Mercy (January 10)

Blood, sweat, and tears stain every frame of this screen rendition of civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s book, a scathing indictment of America’s legal system.  The book covers more than three decades of outrageous cases of wrongly accused or unfairly sentenced death row inmates — the majority of them African American — but the movie focuses on Stevenson’s earliest case: A pair of men facing Alabama’s electric chair in the ’80s. This superstar cast, including Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, and Tim Blake Nelson, could well form an impromptu parade on Oscar night.

Uncut Gems (December 13)

Scene from the film, Uncut Gems
(Courtesy A24)

Adam Sandler has played straight drama before, but nothing like this adrenaline-pumped film. Director brothers Benny and Josh Safdie’s (Good Time) manic camera work, overlapping dialogue, and in-your-face style are made all the more disorienting by Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a jittery Manhattan jeweler who is always on the lookout for a quick buck. Up to his neck in gambling debt, Howard finds himself in possession of an opal-embedded rock he’s convinced will enable him to finally pay everyone off. But it’s not that easy. Everybody hates Howard, including his wife and his girlfriend, but like a black hole, he draws everyone, including us, into his self-destructive event horizon.

Truth Be Told (Streaming on Apple+)

Scene from the film, Truth Be Told
(Apple tv+)

Making a huge splash with its new streaming service, Apple snared Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to star in this series as Poppy Parnell, a San Francisco true-crime podcaster trying to free a man wrongly convicted of murder (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). The twist: It was Poppy’s newspaper reporting that helped put the accused 16-year-old behind bars for life 19 years earlier. Elizabeth Perkins is powerful as the accused’s mother, stricken with terminal cancer but pursuing her son’s exoneration with steely resolve. And then there’s Poppy and her serene authority, patiently unraveling new clues that seem to pile up by the minute.

For biweekly video reviews of the latest films, go to or check out Bill Newcott’s website,

This article is featured in the January/February 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Courtesy Warner Bros.

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