A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
This movie gives viewers plenty to think and talk about concerning the death penalty. Also, what does it mean when someone is "just doing their job"?
Positive Role Models
Although she's a strong character and a Black woman in a position of power, it's difficult to describe Bernadine as a clearly positive role model, given that she's not only in charge of executing prisoners but also that she's clearly suffering and has no outlet. And she never seeks help for her pain.
Violence & Scariness
Horrifying sequence of a death row prisoner's execution (by lethal injection) going wrong, leading to an agonizing death. Blood spills out of chest wound. Prisoner bashes own head against wall three times, blood smear on wall. Angry protestors shouting. Arguing.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple attempts sex but gives up. Moaning noises heard, kissing shown. In a later scene, a man fondles his wife's breasts (over clothing), kisses her, makes brief "sexy talk."
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Infrequent uses of "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," and "damn."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Main character drinks frequently in bars. She gets staggering drunk in one scene and tries to drive, but a co-worker takes her home instead.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Clemency is a drama about a warden (Alfre Woodard) who oversees a death row prison. It's an austere, unflinching, intense, and powerful film, with unforgettable work by Woodard. It's also very difficult to watch. In one horrifying sequence, a prisoner's execution goes wrong, and he dies in agony, with blood pooling up out of a chest wound. Another prisoner tries to kill himself by repeatedly banging his head against the wall; a blood smear is shown. Angry protestors shout frequently, and characters argue. A married couple initiates sex in two scenes but end up stopping. There's kissing, fondling of a woman's breasts over her clothing, suggestive talk, and off-screen moaning sounds. Language is infrequent but includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. The main character drinks frequently in bars. She gets staggering drunk in one scene and attempts to drive home but is stopped. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Austere and resonant, this drama about the horrors of the death penalty roots itself in a vivid, pain-wracked, soul-tired main character and still manages to get its message across without preaching. Woodard's devastating performance in Clemency is quiet and controlled as Bernadine tries to maintain a sense of duty and responsibility, aside from her personal feelings. But her gaze as she sits blearily on the couch at night, or when she drinks too much at a bar and fails miserably at having a normal conversation, reveal untold depths of anguished humanity. There are moments when she's so far gone that she doesn't even respond to "warden" and only wakes up when her name, "Bernadine," is called.
The rest of the movie's moving parts work well, too. Schiff's lawyer character is equally damaged, on the verge of retiring -- not because he wants to but because he simply can't handle the despair of his job anymore. His moments with Hodge's prisoner are amazingly touching, especially as we realize that this movie, simply put, isn't going to be one of those exciting thrillers with a last-minute rescue call from the governor. Only the character of Bernadine's husband seems thinly sketched, a little too quick to jump into dramatic arguments. Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the quiet Clemency climaxes with an unforgettable moment of supreme quietness as the camera lingers on Bernadine's face. And, for a long moment, we witness terrible things happening to the remains of her soul.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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