Review: Clemency (2019 Sundance Film Festival)

Title: Clemency
Rating: R
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Starring: Aldis Hodge, Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff
Runtime: 1hr 53min

What It Is: After a botched euthanasia procedure on death row, Warden Bernadine Williams (Woodard) begins to feel the psychological toll from the work, suffering vivid nightmares, political protests, and a troubled marriage. Convict Anthony Woods (Hodge) continues to claim his innocence and is placed next in line to die; Williams and her staff severely doubt the effectiveness of the capital punishment as part of a broken justice system.

What We Think: Let’s start with the good stuff before we get to the nitty-gritty. The opening scene is pretty good; pretty engaging. Alfre Woodward is brilliant, pumping as much silent, emotional turmoil as she can in her performance. 

Problem is, is it’s a performance bogged down by repetitive, monotonous, shot-reverse-shot scenes of her and someone else have a predictable convesation. Speaking of predictable conversations: it feels like we didn’t make much progress for a film that was made to make a larger statement. I’ll come clean: I’m personally anti-death row. Which is worse that I felt this film was all sort of… pandering. Even though it was catering to my side of the argument, I couldn’t help but play devil’s advocate, and I thought… where’s the representation of the other side? The film focuses on namely Woods, but never acknowledges that there are still people that exist on death row that have done sick things, things that pro-death-row would say warrant the punishment. On top of that: there wasn’t too much character progression as the whole cast of prison staff that obviously felt that death row is morally ‘wrong’ since the very start of the movie. Behind them were a plethora of supporting characters pushing that death-row is wrong. No one ever needed convincing. So what is there to convince the audience that this film is presumably meant for?

Our Grade: D+, I really wanted to believe in this film, but it just kept going on and on with the same discussions, all-too-familiar dramatic situations, and dry or annoying characters… and just left me feeling nothing—not empowered, nor assured, nor confident that I could show this to someone pro-death-row and win them over to my point-of-view. There are too many perspective-centered holes and uninteresting scenes to keep me honestly invested. I was bored. I was left empty-handed.

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Chai Simone Written by: