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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Every Silver Lining Has a Dark Cloud

Clemency (2019) on IMDb

Plot Overview

crucifiedTo deconstruct the title CLEMENCY, take its last two letters CY and move them to the start of the word to get CYCLEMEN. Split the word in two for CYCLE MEN. “Clemency” cycles condemned men through the execution process starting with Warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard)'s eleventh, Victor Jimenez (Alex Castillo,) and taking up with her twelfth, Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) from the rejection of his final appeal until his last gasp. The movie relentlessly cycles through three fixed settings: the institutional prison where the warden plies her trade—there is one brief foray to the institutional school where her husband works,—“the bar” Blue Star where the cops, lawyers, and prison person­nel all hang out after work, and Bernadine's cozy suburban home.

Woods was, back in the day, a black youth with no father influence. He dropped out of high school and turned to crime. A convenience store robbery went south and a cop got killed, though likely Woods was not the trigger man. Hope springs eternal, and his defense attorney Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) sticks it out until the end waiting for a reprieve from the suzerain. The more we visit “the bar” and see all the officials in their familiar club, the less likely we are to believe the governor is going to pardon a cop killer.

Woods becomes suddenly hopeful when he receives a surprise letter from his long past “barely out of high school” sweet­heart Evette Wilkin­son (Danielle Brooks) who'd dumped him when he got arrested but now wants the son he'd fathered unawares to meet him. He thinks that when his pardon comes through, he'll have a ready-made family, but Evette had chosen a better marriage option back fifteen years ago and there's no indication she's changing her mind now. The optimist club is growing.

The third member of the club is prison chaplain David Kendricks (Michael O'Neill) who shares eternal thoughts with Woods, which would give any Christian hope for heaven. The chaplain, though, has earlier explained that prisoners, even non-religious ones, who are forced to maintain silence, some­times attend chapel so they can loudly vent their feelings through gospel songs at least. Woods lets out with a PRIMAL SCREAM that would be more germane to the bad place.


Jimenez for his part recited from memory the Lord's Prayer as he lay dying. It was the familiar version from the KJV. Chaplain David gave Woods an inter­pretive reading of Romans 8:38-39 using his cloth bound Good News Translation (GNT.) The movie as a whole focuses on Bernadine, center frame, and the sorrow she trails in her wake, so let's take a look at, Prov. 30:21-23 “The earth is disquieted, and … it can­not bear … an odious woman when she is married.” The footnote in my Jewish Study Bible enlightens us on this matter: “A loath­some woman, lit. ‘hated woman,’ has, (the author presumes) done some­thing deserving of disgust and is unworthy of marriage. ... The word for hated seems to mean ‘unloved’ or ‘dispreferred’.” After a botched execution, Bernadine can't sleep at night and takes up residence on the couch causing her husband Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) to complain.

3 at desksHe had sacrificed his own career options for her oppor­tunity and took a default job in their new location as a high school teacher. He feels about it the same way Marty would if faced with same in retirement, “The thought makes me want to throw up.” He feels like an “invisible man,” that he is “shrinking.” His cold, absent wife makes him feel worse. Now he's wanting to retire early, disap­pointing his students as well who admire him. He moves out to a nearby motel reducing their vacancy rate. Bernadine drinks in excess at the bar, and her friends can hardly restrain her from driving intoxicated, endangering others. Her non-traditional career choice doesn't suit her temperament, though she's good enough at her job per se, and others suffer for it.

If we look at the GNT, the loathsome woman becomes, “a hateful woman who gets married.” Hateful can have two different meanings, one being odious as explained above, and the other being characterized by malice. In this movie Bernadine gets defensive about her orderly rule of the prison when she's accused of not being flexible enough to accommodate Woods's non-traditional extended family to witness his execution. I'm beginning to question why a prison chaplain would tote around a book labeled “Good News” when all the news they're likely to receive is bad. Capital punishment is enjoined in Gen. 9:6 in them all. I suppose he has his reasons. Not­with­standing, these executions make good news on Channel 5 News.

Production Values

” (2019) was written and directed by a woman, Chinonye Chukwu. It stars Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff, and Aldis Hodge. Especially since she appeared in so many scenes, in closeup with little or no speech, Woodard was required to act like a real thespian, and she was up to the task. On top of every­thing else, she made a convincing drunk. The other actors did well in their complementary performances, also. I think Brooks as the blast from the past did an especially fine job.

MPAA rated it R for some disturbing material, and language. Alcohol consumption was balanced with a good example of friends not letting friends drive impaired. The film is paced slow enough to emulate prison time. There was no musical background except for some soft orches­tration at dramatic moments. The juke­box at the bar played a non-intrusive eclectic mix for the crowd that had little in common with each other except for their attachment to law enforcement. These scenes drive home the point that it doesn't pay to mess with cops; they've got friends.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

If you like dark films, this one will be right up your alley. Beyond that, it gives a strong portrayal of a woman who wants to have her cake and eat it, too. She succeeds well in a warrior occupation usually reserved for men, but she wants a good marriage, as well, and her accommo­dating husband is dis­satis­fied with his necessary nurturing occupation as a school teacher. If for no other reason, you can see it to assuage your conscience by thinking liberal thoughts.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Predictable. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, Print.

The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh. New York: Oxford University Press. New Jewish Publication Society 2nd ed. of 1999. Print.

Scripture quotations marked GNT are from the Good News Translation © 1982, American Bible Society. Web.