An unhurried death row drama doesn’t have the emotional power of a Dead Man Walking but is often involving and intelligent in how it unfolds as a character study. Even if naysayers will poke into its redundant and overwrought tendencies.
The estimable Alfre Woodard stars in Clemency which has a grim, if affecting realism about it, sharing some thematic resonance with the concurrent, more accessible Just Mercy (featuring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan).
Woodard endows restraint and dignity to harried, ethically minded maximum security prison warden Bernadine Williams, displaying respect to those under her watch.
An early execution by lethal injection that goes awry causing a public outcry leaves the protagonist distraught and promises the next one will go without a hitch.
Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu who has volunteered on a number of titular appeal cases hones in the upcoming execution of young, black Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) convicted of shooting a cop during a convenience store robbery fifteen years ago. Hodge evinces noticeable angst in this grueling process as there is palpable ambivalence about his guilt, and after his appeal is hoping for support from the governor.
Richard Schiff is well-cast as Anthony’s steadfast, nearing retirement attorney Marty Lumetta, who is feeling the strain from this case; similarly, the thorniness of the justice system has taken its toll on the prison chaplain (Michael O’Neill).
It’s hard not to be shaken (at least a little) in a scene where Anthony’s mother of his and girlfriend at the time of his arrest, Evette (Danielle Brooks), finally discloses why she hasn’t been around that finally leaves the pained, anxious man less hopeful than he wished.
Bernadine’s irreparable solitude has brought a numbness to her marriage as benevolent schoolteacher spouse Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) acknowledges. It’s clear her profession has unfortunately become her chief devotion as her subconscious showcases her inner discord at times; her deputy warden (Richard Gunn) has more of a closer relationship.
Chukwu in her fair-minded, persuasive approach lets the veteran actress do some of her best work in years in what could be considered an indictment on the death penalty. A mostly cogent Clemency lets the jadedness absorb the onlooker in what won’t opt for any pat resolutions.