Chinonye Chukwu (director)
1h 52mins (length)
16 July 2020 (released)
21 July 2020
When Alfre Woodard wasn't nominated for an Oscar for Clemency earlier this year, there was uproar on social media, with users outraged that her performance had been overlooked.
Now movie fans in the U.K. can finally see what all the fuss is about, as Clemency, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, has been given a release on this side of the pond at long last.
The film follows Bernadine Williams (Woodard), the warden of a prison that carries out capital punishment.
Following the movie's opening scene, she has personally been involved in 12 executions and there is another one on the horizon - convicted cop killer Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), who has always maintained his innocence, has lost his latest appeal.
While Bernadine maintains a calm and professional appearance on the outside, she is an emotional wreck. She can't sleep, she feels totally alone, she drinks often, and her marriage to Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) is falling apart.
And she's not the only one affected by working with death row inmates - Anthony's lawyer Marty (Richard Schiff) is planning to retire as he can't take anymore, the chaplain (Michael O'Neill) is considering the same thing, and her co-worker Thomas (Richard Gunn) is applying for a job at a prison that doesn't carry out the death penalty.
When a certain performance has been hyped up, you can sometimes be let down when you watch it for yourself, but this is not the case with Woodard. It definitely lives up to expectations. Bernadine is very restrained and composed on the outside but every so often you get a glimpse of how badly she's crumbling on the inside. Woodard should have been nominated for an Oscar, even for just the last 10 minutes, which are largely shown in a haunting one-shot close-up of her face. What a poignant and captivating performance.
She has terrific support too, from Pierce as her husband, who is desperately trying to reconnect with his wife and save his marriage, to Hodge, as the prisoner clinging onto hope of a reprieve, and Schiff as his tired and fed-up lawyer.
The performances are the best thing about Clemency. The style of the movie, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, may frustrate some. It's slow-moving, pretty quiet in places, and some scenes have minimal dialogue when a good conversation would have been more satisfying.
Clemency is thought-provoking and offers a rare insight into the emotional toll the death penalty can have on prison staff carrying out the punishment, as opposed to the perspective of the criminal, which is portrayed more often in film. For that reason, as well as the outstanding performances all round, Clemency is worth a watch.