Film Review: Clemency

This understated prison drama was released last year in the U.S. and is just now hitting our radar. It’s beautifully shot and acted with a ponderous pace that feels almost plotless. It’s best asset is its portrayal of the characters’ agony in the final days before the execution of inmate, Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge).

The focus is on warden Bernadine Williams, (expertly played by Alfre Woodard) whose previous execution was botched and continues to haunt her. It is clear that Williams is at the end of her tether. It doesn’t help that there’s a good possibility that Anthony Woods is innocent.

The film is not an indictment of capital punishment, although it certainly does give one pause. The theme here is the sacredness of life and the heaviness of taking a life. Everyone is damaged by the process. It is not an easy thing to experience and the gut-wrenching performance in this film bring the message home. Even the warden’s husband, Jonathan ( expertly handled by Wendell Pierce), is touched by the execution. The strain on the marriage is at the breaking point.

Danielle Brooks as the mother of Anthony Woods’ young son gives an incredible performance as a woman torn between two bad choices.

There is nothing but pain in this film. It is not escapism, but reality in it’s rawest form. It is hard to go back to fluffy fare after seeing such heavy truth. Kudos to writer/director Chinonye Chukwu. We look forward to seeing more of her work.

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