Clemency

Drama | English | 112 minutes

Info

Bernardine Williams is a warden in a death row prison. She has the reputation  of being  a stickler for procedure. Her words, her gestures and her expressions are carefully calculated, especially as she prepares each prisoner before the execution. She eases her stress with a few drinks at a local tavern after she leaves work. But her emotional pain does not let up at home and this alienates Jonathan, her long-suffering husband. Carrying out eleven death row executions has taken a toll on her. Bernardine’s life begins to crack when an inmate’s execution by lethal injection is terribly botched. But she must continue. This is the career she chose. She’s now counseling Anthony Woods, an inmate awaiting execution. Bernardine does not reveal any trace of sorrow or emotion when she questions Anthony about what he would like for his last meal and the family member who will claim his body.  “Clemency” is not an argument for or against capital punishment. Instead, it’s a very nuanced film about  how executing inmates, no matter how heinous the crime, can devastate a marriage and the person performing the executions. This is for certain: people watching this film will talk about it long after the film ends

Cast
Alfre Woodward (Warden Bernadine Williams) / Aldis Hodge (Anthony Woods) / Wendell Pierce (Jonathan Williams)
Why Stream This Film?
It’s a disturbing film about how  executing prisoners can sear the emotional well-being of a seemingly hard-nosed prison warden.  The film professes  it does not take a position as to whether capital punishment is right or wrong. But the way it depicts the process of the execution and its destructive impact on the people administering the execution, the viewer may have a tough time concluding that capital punishment is the right way to go.     
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 91%
  • Metacritic Score: 77%
Accolades
  • Sundance Film Festival: Winner, Dramatic Grand Jury Prize
  • Philadelphia Film Festival: Winner, Best Feature
  • Independent Spirit Awards: Nominated, Best Feature; Best Female Lead (Alfre Woodward; Best Screenplay (Chinonye Chukwu)
The title of CLEMENCY refers to the mercy extended to a prisoner, but it’s the wisdom of this grave and sorrowful drama to spread the meaning to everyone in its view. The film observes its characters with a steady, unmodulated pace and a minimum of frills.
Ty Burr

The Boston Globe

Woodward’s performance gathers its astonishing force incrementally, in subtle choices and inflections that you might not even register as actorly decisions. That same power is what finally undoes Bernardine, a tragic figure whom Woodward brilliantly dismantles piece by ravaged piece.
Manohla Dargis

The New York Times

2019 has been filled with films about incarcerated men but none have gripped me quite like Chukwu’s masterwork. Alfre Woodward was more deserving of Oscar contention than the majority of the nominees selected by SAG and the Golden Globes.
Matt Fagerholm

RogerEbert.com

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