Ellen Page is fighting to save her father from lethal injection when she falls for Kate Mara’s pro-execution lawyer|
by Phil Hoad, published on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 18.00 BST
Bridging America’s divided soul is the task Israeli film-maker Tali Shalom Ezer sets herself in her second feature, a romance-cum-road-movie-cum-capital-punishment social drama. Ellen Page, playing 10 years younger, is twentysomething anti-execution activist Lucy Morrow, whose father is due for lethal injection for the alleged murder of her mother. She falls in love across the battle lines with Kate Mara’s lawyer, one of the pro-capital punishment protesters she regularly sees at demonstrations around the country.
Possibly in a genre of two with Monster (2003) – the lesbian death-row romance – My Days of Mercy is considerably lighter, the effervescent chemistry between the two leads saving it from Sundance-y overearnestness. Mara has a wry authority over an admirably chippy Page, who has been press-ganged by her sister (Amy Seimetz) into career activism; “How was your proboning?” she needles her sibling’s lawyer lover. The film’s early, quasi-romcom tone means the film must straddle a tonal divide, too, as Lucy’s father’s execution date approaches. Structured around several protests before the final showdown, it emerges as a slightly ungainly hybrid: Four Killings and a Funeral, almost.
Director Tali Shalom Ezer and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (The Babadook) have a knack for crisp visuals that pop with graphic-novel succinctness, like the final-meal platters that open each section. But as My Days of Mercy quietly builds in power, in its back half, this tendency means the film falls short visually for what is, on paper, a courageous choice of climactic scene. It doesn’t find a way to fully convey the profound impact of watching the act of institutionalised murder. Coupled with the weakness for pats between Page and Mara to force the final act to a head, this ambitious film isn’t quite a full-bore success.
Rating: 3 out of 5