The ever-reliable character actor is given a rare opportunity to lead in a tough-minded film about a prison warden questioning the morality of death row There’s little room to breathe in writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s constricting, devastating drama Clemency, an intentionally airless film processing a tough subject through an unusual viewpoint. It was the deserved big winner at Sundance this year, making Chukwu the first black woman to win the Grand Jury prize, and now lands at Toronto, with more awards in its sights. Our protagonist is prison warden Bernadine (Alfre Woodard), first seen as she prepares for an execution, methodically going through her mental checklist with calm professionalism while keeping emotions at bay. It might be her 12th but experience only seems to make the process that much harder, a growing awareness that the system she’s a part of might not be something she truly believes in.
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