At the time of writing, capital punishment is legal in twenty-eight states of America, but who knows how many this will be by November? The ‘Land of the Free’ is the only Western country where the death penalty is regularly enforced. There’s seems to be little appetite to change this on either side of the House.  As we’ve seen recently, the criminal justice system in the US is hardly meritocratic. Chinonye Chukwu’s new film, Clemency, is a stark portrait of life within its parameters.

As prison warden, Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) is responsible for overseeing the execution of inmates. The procedure doesn’t always go to plan, and when things go wrong it places an extra emotionally and psychological burden on her. Not to mention the strain it places on her marriage. One of her prisoners, Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), despite the best efforts of his aging lawyer (Richard Schiff) and his protestations of innocence, has lost his final appeal.

Clemency is a powerful and emotive drama about the barbaric practice of state-sanctioned murder. It’s no surprise that Chukwu’s film deservedly won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. This is largely down to a whole-hearted and muscular from Woodard, who gives every inch of herself to the role. Whilst the focus may be on one man with a death sentence, the main characters are all confined within their own bars, one way or another. Clemency is vital cinema.

Clemency is released by Bohemia Media on 17 July.