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Clemency (2019)

Alfre Woodard and Alex Castillo appear in <i>Clemency<i />by Chinonye Chokwu, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtsey of Sundance Institute | photo by Eric Branco All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

A strong character study of a movie, Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency follows a prison warden named Bernadine Williams (played by Alfre Woodard) who had resided over numerous death row executions over her long career. In front of her male prisoners Williams displays behaviour that these deaths have no impact on her but is that the case behind the scenes?

As Williams approaches the end of her time as Warden it appears that the deaths she has overseen have slowly been chinking away at her armour and it is about to crack in a big way impacting her personal and professional life. The reason? A death row prisoner named Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), who claims to have been wrongfully accused of murdering a woman during the course of a robbery.

Woodward plays Williams in a nuanced way but still allows the audience to feel the mental battle she is having with herself. If anything it feels a bit like Woodward is slightly limited to the one tense story thread she is a part of. We could have done with seeing the impact her career has had on more aspects of her life. The juxtaposition of Hodge’s Woods and his adamant portrayal of innocence helps build the movie to a satisfying (if not limited) conclusion.

Verdict: 6/10. A strong character portrayal that is let down in its pacing and how far it is willing to push its conclusion. Woodward shines as Williams and carries the movie on her shoulders acroos the finish line with time to spare.

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