As busy I get from time to time, I find that I can’t see every movie under the sun, leaving my friends and colleagues to fill in the blanks for me. As poetically as I think I wax about movies on this website as a wannabe critic, there are other experts out there. Sometimes, it inspires me to see the movie too and get back to being my circle’s go-to movie guy. Sometimes, they save me $9 and you 800+ words of blathering. In a new review series, I’m opening my site to friend submissions for guest movie reviews.
TODAY’S CRITIC: Lafronda Stumn
Lafronda Stumn is a student at Madisonville Community College and intends to graduate with an Associate’s degree in Associate of the Arts. She plans on earning a Bachelors’s Degree in Motion Picture Studies and English at Wright State University. Her favorite Directors are Scorsese, Speilberg, and Spike Lee, and her favorite actors are Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Halle Berry. Lafronda contacted this page looking for a place to get published and I enjoy giving people that very kind of opportunity. I covered Clemency last, but there’s always room for more insight and opinions on any movie. Enjoy!
Alfre Woodward has consistently given outstanding performances in films over the thirty years she’s appeared in them. Many of her roles have been supporting roles with such esteemed directors such as John Sayles, Lawrence Kasdan, Spike Lee, and Martin Ritt. In Clemency, she plays the prison warden on death row. She has the say of nay of requests from the family of friends of visitations and other things on death row, in which the main character, Bernadine Williams, usually decline an offer.
Bernadine is married to Johnathan Williams (Wendell Pierce), a school teacher about to retire soon. Johnathan asks Bernadine to withdraw as well; she immediately rejects the idea, which leads to conflict within their marriage.
Besides, one prisoner that Bernadine is overseeing the execution is Anthony Woods (Aldis Lodge), whose guilt is in question due to the case of just circumstantial evidence. Bernadine pushes through the case anyway and goes to a buddy at work, a fellow warden Thomas. They get drunk, and how they deal with their profession’s trials and tribulations can be daunting.
Many scenes pull the heartstrings of emotion when Bernadine discusses with Anthony what will happen at his execution, and his reaction is the silence of words, but his facial expression says so much.
As well as another scene, Anthony looks at all of his pictures of himself on the prison cell wall. He has a complete meltdown and has to be seduced by the police guards near him.
Thomas practices Anthony’s procedure, one of the guards, a black man, stands in as a guinea pig of sorts. Another black male co-worker leaves and says that he cannot go through this way of another black man to a death sentence in front of his eyes.
Also, there is a heart-breaking scene when Anthony’s ex-girlfriend visits him in jail and explains her absence from his life and the son they had together. The ex-girlfriend’s brutal honesty setting explains to him; in a soft, calming tone of voice of the ex-girlfriend is one of the best locations in the film.
There is no musical score to distract from what’s at hand. It’s just insightful dialogue and observation of Lodge’s character’s emotional up and downs of what leads to his fate and how Bernadine tries to comprehended overseeing the execution for a man who may very well be innocent of the crime. Bernadine’s guilt and how it internally takes a toll on her psyche, especially at the end of the film, is the heart of the story.
The writer-director of the film, Chinonye Chukwu, does an adequate job of creating the characters’ intimacy and how they relate to each other, especially Bernadine’s relationship with her husband. Her co-workers and the families of the inmates. The dialogue forced. For the most part, the character’s voice is quiet, systematic, and sincere. You feel great empathy for Bernadine dealing with an impossible situation and sending an innocent man to death and has no control or authority to stop it. As a viewer of Clemency, you feel the most empathy for Anthony, whose life is altered by regrets from his past and living as a black man who is another victim of the criminal justice system that has failed him and many black men and women in America.
Woodward’s performance is Oscar-caliber. Her Bernadine Williams goes through an array of emotions of high and lows from stoic, to the hostel, to quiet, and the last scene of the film is one of the best examples of non-verbal facial expression in recent memory.
If there is a flaw, I feel that the pacing can be too slow and methodical. The film could have used some faster pacing and editing in some moments with Bernadine dealing with her husband. Still, overall, the film does an excellent job of depicting the justice system that makes many minority people getting the short end of the stick in terms of justice for black and brown people.
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