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Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsTIFF 2019: Clemency Review

Keith NoakesSeptember 15, 201985/100
Starring
Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce
Writer
Chinonye Chukwu
Director
Chinonye Chukwu
Rating
n/a
Running Time
113 minutes
Release Date
December 27th, 2019
Overall Score
Rating Summary
Clemency is a subtly powerful drama that arguably underplays its subject matter but nevertheless is elevated by an excellent performance from Alfre Woodard.

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to keep up with our latest coverage, click here.

It appears that the streak of okay to good character films elevated by strong female central performances this festival continues with Clemency, a film that has already earned plenty of praise for its star, acting veteran Alfre Woodard, since debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Even now, she is definitely worth that praise, giving life (pun intended) to what could easily have been a lifeless film though some may still think otherwise (and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong). The film may explore some deeper themes but it definitely could have gone about them in a less subtle way.

As the title implied, Clemency was about a prison warden named Bernadine Williams (Woodard) who had resided over countless death row executions over her long career. The normally solemn warden has seen so much death but it never seemed to get to her. Despite this, she was a female warden in an all-male prison so she still had to put on a strong face. Even with that strong face, it was clear that there was much more going on behind Williams’ demeanor. Nearing the end of her time as warden, all those executions were starting to take their toll on her both professionally and personally. What would finally turn the tides was the death row case of a man named Anthony Woods (Hodge) who claimed he was wrongfully accused of murdering a woman during the course of a robbery. There was just something about him that Williams couldn’t shake.

The best part of Clemency was of course Woodard’s excellent performance as Williams. The film may arguably be too subtle with the character but she still spoke volumes with her incredibly nuanced portrayal. She was very compelling to watch, however, it would have been nice to see her through a wider lens than the one death row case. Meanwhile, Hodge delivered a powerful performance of his own as Woods, an inmate who was adamant of his innocence until the very end. His subplot served as an interesting counterbalance to Williams though it could have gone further with that argument.

At the end of the day, Clemency, if anything, is a strong character study whose subject matter and pace won’t be for everyone but is worth watching because of Woodard.

*still courtesy of Neon*


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