Clemency (2019) ★★★1/2
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu
Clemency looks closely at the bureaucratic processes and day-to-day workplace politics behind the administration of the death penalty. In doing so, it powerfully argues that the death penalty is psychologically cruel to the prisoners who receive it as a sentence, the prison workers who carry out the executions, and even the families of those victimized by crime. It’s one of the most intellectually engaging movies I’ve seen over the past year, one that forced me to sit with a lot of difficult questions that went beyond whether or not the death penalty should exist.
The movie opens on the evening of an execution, overseen by the prison warden, Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). Warden Williams is pensive as she manages the people who will join her in the execution room: a priest, a security officer, her deputy, and a medic who will give the convicted man with a lethal chemical injection. Everyone seems tense as they strive to follow set procedures. When the medic has difficulty finding a good vein, the injection goes shockingly wrong, resulting in a cruel, painful death that leaves everyone shaken.