Lucy (Ellen Page) and Mercy (Kate Mara) are two young women who forge an unexpected friendship and romance which cuts across intense political lines.
Lucy is a staunch anti-death penalty campaigner. Mercy is for it after her cop father’s partner was killed.
The film follows Lucy and her two siblings as they travel through the arresting American landscape in an old Winnebago campervan. They travel to stand in sadness and solidarity at different prison gates as the executions happen inside.
Early on we discover the reason why the family are so committed to attending the protests. Their father is on death row for a crime they are convinced he did not commit.
What follows is a race against time to prove his innocence, peppered with the confusion of an unfurling relationship between Lucy and Mercy.
Passionate moments are interwoven with jarring clashes over the death penalty. The film is punctuated with stylistic shots of the inmates’ “last meal”, in place of seeing the prisoners themselves.
These haunting stand-alone shots highlight the inhumane tragedy of the death row prisoner. Human lives are taken by the state and reduced to a final meal on a plastic tray.
These shots zero in on the absurdity surrounding the tray’s existence.
They are byproducts of a brutal justice system. The state grants itself the power to kill human beings, exonerating themselves by providing a cruel joke dressed up as generosity.
The deft, emotional weight the film holds owes a lot to these quiet, bird’s-eye views of these tragic meals.
With the subject matter, this film had the potential to be outstanding. Ultimately, though, it falls short.
It feels a little clunky, with many topics crammed together and not dissected properly. The viewer is also left with a slightly disjointed feeling of disbelief.
With Lucy’s father on death row, it seems incredibly unlikely that she would fall so quickly for someone who holds pro-death penalty views.
But the film holds the weight of a tender portrait of love found over political and class lines. At times it mesmerises with profound tenderness and a confused intimacy.
This is a worthwhile and thought provoking film but, with such a contentious issue at its core, more could have been made of it.
My Days of Mercy is on limited release from 17 May
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