Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2019. ACE Pictures Entertainment, Bronwyn Cornelius Productions, Big Indie Pictures. Screenplay by Chinonye Chukwu. Cinematography by Eric Branco. Produced by Timur Bekbosunov, Julian Cautherley, Bronwyn Cornelius, Peter Wong. Music by Kathryn Bostic. Production Design by Margaux Rust. Costume Design by Suzanne Barnes. Film Editing by Phyllis Housen. Gotham Awards 2019. Independent Spirit Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
Alfre Woodard gives a mesmerizing performance in a rare lead role, playing a prison warden in a capital punishment state whose job has worn her down. She refuses to acknowledge her own depleted physical and emotional state despite the difficulty of connecting with her husband (Wendell Pierce) at home and the near-catatonic response with which she is starting to respond to trouble at work: the film begins with an execution that misfires thanks to a poor job done by the medical professional in charge of the lethal injection, which leads to her personal doubts about her efficacy after so many years in this position. An inmate on death row, played by a powerful Aldis Hodge, is still hoping to be proved innocent for the crime that has put him in this position, and his devoted Lawyer (Richard Schiff) is hoping to use the failure at the previous execution to help avoid his client’s death. Moody, heavy and relentless, this is a personal and intimate film that keeps in direct contact with its lead character, and Woodard has all the charisma and intensity required to play it so close to the bone. Spreading a doleful atmosphere on the screen that director Chinonye Chukwu is never in a rush to get away from, the result isn’t depressing but rather, thanks to such a great cast, something that touches you very deeply. Danielle Brooks is excellent in a brief but unforgettable scene visiting Hodge in jail, while Pierce provides an impressive contrast to Woodard, anxious to help his wife but always failing thanks to his contradictory qualities of optimism and calm.