Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Runtime: 112 minutes
Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks, Richard Gunn
Synopsis: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden, Bernadine Williams. The emotional wedge in her marriage grows. Memories of a recently botched execution plague her daily. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.
Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu [A Long Walk (2013), alaskaLand (2012)] in 2019 became the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize with Clemency, a gripping drama which drills into serious social issues.
Years of carrying out death row executions have taken its toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.
Woodard [12 Years a Slave (2013)] gives a powerful, utterly mesmerising, performance as the jaded Williams, desensitised by her work, with a failing marriage to her frustrated teacher husband [Wendell Pierce – The Wire (2002), Selma (2014), Suits – TV (2013-2019)]
She is frequently seen heading to the bar after work as her solution to her PTSD and insomnia, with behaviour verging on the inappropriate when she flirts with her deputy Thomas (Richard Gunn).
Clemency opens with a distressingly realistic botched lethal injection execution which brings media attention and tension in the prison. Another execution is imminent – convicted “cop killer” Anthony Woods [Aldis Hodge – Straight Outta Compton, (2015)], whose innocence is chanted every day by a group of vocal protestors outside.
The film focusses on the rarely touched harrowing toll that the carrying out of the death penalty has on all the people involved. This makes Clemency a ground-breaking film, which at all times feels authentic because of Chukwu’s painstaking research.
An outstanding ensemble includes Richard Schiff (The West Wing, 1999-2006) as a soon to be retired, compassionate attorney; and Michael O’Neill (Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) as the prison chaplain. An atmospheric score by Kathryn Bostic and cinematography by Eric Branco underline the stark and devastating subject matter.
But ultimately it is Woodard’s brilliant, moving and nuanced performance which is unforgettable.
Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema
Images courtesy: Bohemia Media / Modern Films