MY DAYS OF MERCY (2019)

July 4, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. There have been some fine movies centered on death row. These include: THE GREEN MILE (1999), DEAD MAN WALKING (1995), THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (2003), and TRUE CRIME (1999). The only one I can remember that even comes close to also being a love story is MONSTER’S BALL (2001), and if you’ve seen it, you would likely agree that it’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy story of romance. With this latest, however, Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer and British writer Joe Barton combine for a romantic story where death row plays a vital part.

Ellen Page stars as Lucy. She travels around the country in a well-worn motorhome with her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz, UPSTREAM COLOR) and their little brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC), as they partake in the anti-death penalty demonstrations outside the prison gates as the next execution takes place. Across the parking lot, the pro-death penalty side hold their own signs and keep their own vigil. Lucy’s eyes lock on those of a striking young woman from the other side. When they meet, the ironically named Mercy (Kate Mara) aggressively flirts with the shy and confused Lucy, and the two sneak out for drinks at a bar.

Soon Lucy is anxiously awaiting the next protest so that she can meet up with Mercy. The sexual tension builds as they get to know each other, and their awkward friendship turns romantic. Their activism for different sides of an important topic doesn’t have any negative impact on their attraction to each other. Each woman has been personally affected by the death penalty, and as viewers we struggle with the idea that these two lovebirds part each time with what amounts to ‘see you at the next execution!’

Elias Koteas (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, 1990) plays Lucy’s death row dad, and Brian Geraghty (THE HURT LOCKER) plays the attorney who is simultaneously working on his case and on Lucy’s sister Martha. The acting here is top notch as Kate Mara balances the two sides of Mercy, and Ellen Page flashes her familiar JUNO snark – albeit with the heft of a wisened adult. Ms. Seimetz adds to her list of always-interesting characters, and has a couple of truly outstanding scenes.

Blending love and the death penalty makes for an unusual combination, and we do understand that folks choose their side based on personal belief and circumstances. For the film, the death penalty issue is a bit of a distraction to the story of these two people, though it’s admirable that Mr. Barton chose to give them a personal stake in two different cases, rather than the same – which we would expect in a lesser movie. The use of “last meals” is quite creative, as we see the actual food, as well as the name of the inmate, the crime, and the prison.

The fallout from executions is widespread. Perhaps no one wants a narrative film focused entirely on such a depressing and divisive topic. We do ask ourselves if a romantic relationship is even possible for two who are diametrically opposed on such an emotional topic. It’s an ending that lets no one off the hook easily. Life is hard. So is death. Make your choices wisely.

watch the trailer:

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DREAM HOUSE

October 7, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The horror/thriller idealist in me just refuses to surrender. With three legit movie stars and a director who is responsible for one of my favorite movies, I thought this might just be the genre’s rare gem. Instead, it’s watchable, kinda fun, yet mostly predictable and irritating.

Much of the predictability comes from the trailer, which inexplicably spoils the key twist in the film. Because of the trailer, I actually expected an additional twist to contradict the give-away. Instead, it plays out pretty much as expected, saved only by the efforts of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz (now married in real life). Word is that the producer of the film, wrestled control away from director Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) and edited the film into it’s mostly banal finished state. Such a shame.

 Basic story is that a NYC white collar professional quits his job and moves his wife and two girls to their dream house in a quaint little community. Problem is, no one told them that a few years back a mom and her two daughters were murdered in the house, supposedly by the husband who then spent years in a mental institution. With the help of a neighbor (Naomi Watts), Craig starts assembling the pieces of the murder mystery and his new home. On top of that, Elias Koteas is tracking his every move and watching the house.

 The frustration with this one lies in untapped potential. So much more could have been done with Koteas, Watts and Marton Csokas who plays Watts’ overly intense ex-husband. For two days after watching this movie, I kept coming up with new twists and turns that could have made the movie more suspenseful and entertaining. It’s clear that Craig and Weisz are unhappy with the final product as they have been noticeably absent on the talk show circuit, and supposedly Mr. Sheridan requested his name be removed as director.  The behind the scenes mess clearly impacted what we see on screen.

It’s not the worst suspense thriller you’ll ever see, but there are better haunted house films on the market.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a big fan of the suspense thriller genre – even when the final product is far from perfect.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: like me, you get annoyed with obvious deficiencies in movie making.

watch the trailer (only if you don’t mind a MAJOR SPOILER):