Parents' Guide to


By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Powerful, intense, mature drama about the death penalty.

Movie R 2019 113 minutes
Clemency Poster Image

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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.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: December 27, 2019
  • On DVD or streaming: March 24, 2020
  • Cast: Alfre Woodard , Aldis Hodge , Richard Schiff
  • Director: Chinonye Chukwu
  • Inclusion Information: Female directors, Black directors, Female actors, Black actors
  • Studio: Neon
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 113 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: some disturbing material, and language
  • Last updated: June 13, 2023

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