Film review: Clemency

Following in the footsteps of the recent Just Mercy, the sobering and austere Clemency poses some fresh and pertinent questions about the difficult subject of the death penalty.

The film examines the multi-faceted human cost of the process, including the effect on those who implement it. Lead character Bernadine, astonishingly played by veteran character actress Alfre Woodard, is the warden of a death row prison whose role in the system is eating away at her day-by-day. Things come to a head for her as she faces the imminent execution of convicted cop killer Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge, seen recently in The Invisible Man), whose innocence is protested daily outside the prison. This compounds her long-time marital issues with her increasingly weary teacher husband Jonathan (The Wire’s Wendell Pierce) and throws into question whether she can continue in her position.

It’s a deliberately-paced, intentionally uncomfortable piece of drama, but this restrained quality leaves plenty of room for the characters to exist as living, breathing people. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu spent years researching the topic, evidenced by a mature, meaningful narrative that stays with you.

Her film is anything but surface level. For example, during a particularly powerful scene which features an execution, Chukwu holds steady on a shot of Bernadine’s reaction for more than two minutes. It’s a remarkable moment which encapsulates the horror, fear, sadness, confusion, and burdened responsibility that the actress brings to the role. The fact that Woodard wasn’t nominated at the Oscars earlier in the year is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Although the supporting cast are similarly excellent – not least Hodge’s impassioned inmate with the weight of his state-sanctioned death weighing heavy on his shoulders – it’s Woodard’s film, and she shines.

What gives Clemency its power is that it focuses as much, if not more, on the emotional toll on the people caught up in the system as it does on the system itself. Its examination of the fact that African American males are disproportionately incarcerated in the US prison system is given extra relevance in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The film takes a vehemently anti-death penalty stance, but that point of view is expressed without resorting to the cheap manipulation of a swelling score or big awards-bait speeches. It exerts a restrained power that really resonates.

Clemency is available to watch on the BFI Player now.


Follow us on Twitter for more interviews, reviews, competitions, and news.


Read the April 2021 issue of SNACK magazine on your tablet, mobile, or pc.

You May Also Like

Book Review: Jamie’s Keepsake – Michael Gallagher

A lot of Scottish literature represents bad behaviour as something deeply ingrained in the ...

loup havenith sailor single cover

Single Review: Loup Havenith – Sailor

Supercloud’s Abandon All Reason EP caused quite the stir around these here parts when ...

Film Review: James vs. His Future Self

SNACK at The Glasgow Film Festival 2020 James vs. His Future Self Shane Carruth’s ...

EP review: Alex Amor – Love Language

Perfectly produced with swagger and sincerity to match, Alex Amor’s Love Language is an ...

Glasgow Film Festival 2019 – Snack Mag Picks

With so many excellent films showing it’s near impossible to narrow the field down ...

Album review: The Ghost of Helags – We Came From The Stars

Swedish-born but Berlin-based, The Ghost of Helags are a slightly awkward entity to place ...

Track by Track: Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?

In context It’s hard to put across to anyone who wasn’t around then exactly ...

Album review: Thurston Moore – By the Fire

With the nights getting longer and colder, the heat of Thurston Moore’s By The ...

Review: Neil Young – Return to Greendale

Neil Young’s Performance Archives series has treated fans to such wonders as the legendary ...

Get SNACK magazine in your inbox. Free

 

Keep up to date with all the gigs, events, and news coming out of lockdown.