My Days of Mercy

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

My Days of Mercy
dir Tali Shalom-Ezer
scr Joe Barton
prd Christine Vachon, Kate Mara, Ellen Page, David Hinojosa
with Ellen Page, Kate Mara, Amy Seimetz, Charlie Shotwell, Brian Geraghty, Elias Koteas, Tonya Pinkins, Beau Knapp, Jake Robinson, Jordan Trovillion, Denise Dal Vera, Bishop Stevens
release UK Mar.18 flare,
US 5.Apr.19
17/US 1h43

seimetz geraty koteas
bfi flare film fest

page and mara
Despite having a hugely contentious issue at the heart of its plot, this film remains remarkably centred on its characters, all of whom are played with an earthy authenticity that often feels improvised. As directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer, scenes are so raw that they continually take the audience aback. And while the narrative itself is a bit predictable, the character complexity more than makes up for it.
From their home in Ohio, Lucy (Page), her older sister Martha (Seimetz) and their young brother Ben (Shotwell) drive from prison to prison protesting the death penalty. And they have good reason: their father (Koteas) is on death row, and they believe he's innocent. At one execution, Lucy makes an unexpected connection with Mercy (Mara), an activist on the other side of the issue. Then as they get to know each other, both are surprised to find that they're falling in love. Meanwhile, the family lawyer (Geraghty) has one last chance to save Lucy's dad.
Shalom-Ezer takes a strikingly relaxed approach to the story, letting each scene unfold in an organic way. In this way, the film reveals telling details as the character open up to each other, which makes scenes feel unusually intimate. This also means that the film never puts the spotlight on the central thematic controversy. Instead, the focus is on Lucy's rather wrenching internal journey as she confronts doubts about her father's innocence and growing feelings toward this new friend. For her part, Mercy also has a big character arc, although much of it remains off-screen.

Both actresses are excellent, digging deep to express their characters' darker feelings, frustrations and connections. Page has several seriously intense moments, and beautifully expresses Lucy's fragility and vulnerability without undermining her steely resilience. Scenes with Mara bristle with unexpected promise. And the supporting cast members offer strong scenes of their own, hinting at complex lives off-screen. This adds to the film's realistic tone, and offers quite a few points of entry for the audience.

Even with the understated thematic approach, there are still very pointed events on-screen that grapple with the topic, although Shalom-Ezer is clearly working to avoid being too provocative about it. Sometimes it feels like perhaps an edgier tone might have given the film a more pungent kick. As is, the main impact is in the personal story of these two people trying to find their way through their feelings, hopefully to each other.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 21.Mar.18

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall