Aldis Hodge



Curzon Home Cinema

Anybody who still believes that the death penalty is a defensible punishment should sit down and take a long, hard look at this film. Chinonye Chukwu’s bleak, slow burn of a movie ably demonstrates the ways in which capital punishment brutalises and destroys all who come into contact with it – including those who have to implement its chilling procedures.

Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodward) is the warden of an American prison, a place mostly populated by inmates awaiting death by lethal injection. In a blistering opening sequence, we see one such execution being carried out in unflinching detail. It’s horribly botched, which makes it all the more affecting.

Also waiting on death row is Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), a taciturn young man accused of murdering a police officer. He’s been imprisoned for seven years and  insists that he’s innocent, but what makes Clemency different from Just Mercy – a film with which it will inevitably be compared  – is that we’re really never sure whether he has committed the crime or not. In a way, it’s irrelevant, because it’s the very system of capital punishment that’s on trial here and not its victims.

Bernadine is struggling with her duties as warden – the daily grind of dealing with the fear, the hope, the demonstrators, the relatives of those imprisoned and, of course, the inmates themselves. She takes solace in drink and realises that a wedge is developing between her and her husband, Jonathan (Wendell Pierce), but feels unable to do anything about it. Around her, other people are quitting. Defence attorney Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff), who has spent his life fighting for death row prisoners, tells Bernardine that Woods’ case will be his last – he just can’t take any more campaigns for clemency that never yield results. Even the dead policeman’s parents feel that justice has already been served and want Woods to be pardoned. And he, meanwhile, has pinned all his his hopes on meeting his young son for the first time.

Both Woodward and Hedges submit powerhouse performances here; neither of them isafforded much opportunity to talk, but their fears and hopes are writ large in every move, in every despairing look they direct towards the camera. This will not be the happiest screen experience you’ve ever had, but it’s nonetheless a stirring and emotional story, and a passionate plea for change.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Invisible Man


HG Wells’ landmark novel first appeared in serial form in 1896. Since it’s screen debut in 1933, it has become one of the most adopted stories in movie history. Leigh Whanell’s version of the tale has little in common with Wells’ brainchild. If anything, it’s closest to Paul Verhoeven’s The Hollow Man (2000), in which Kevin Bacon took on the titular role. But where that film was unforgivably salacious in tone, Whannell, rather astutely, uses the central idea as a metaphor for the way in which certain men can exert a powerful and malign influence over their female partners.

Here is a version of the story that chimes perfectly with #metoo – yet boasts all the thrills and jump-scares of a traditional fright movie. No mean achievement.

When we first encounter Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss), she is already on the run from an abusive relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). He is an ultra-successful inventor, working on a top secret project. The couple live in a super-swish home on a remote clifftop, where Adrian controls every aspect of Cecilia’s life – what she says, what she does, what she wears, what she eats – and he’s quick with his fists if she’s slow to obey him. She’s had more than enough. So she slips her husband a tranquilliser, grabs her pre-packed bag and makes a run for it. The film is taut with tension from the opening scene. The mere act of accidentally kicking a metal dog bowl is enough to make me almost jump out of my seat.

Two months later, Cecilia is lodging at the house of friendly cop, James (Aldis Hodge), a close friend of her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer). When news comes through that Adrian has killed himself, Cecilia starts to believe that her long nightmare is finally over – but then inexplicable things begin to happen around the house, incidents that threaten Cecilia and her developing friendship with James’ teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). Cecilia gradually begins to understand that Adrian is still somehow holding the reins that govern her life. But she can’t see him. And the problem is, when she tries telling others that she’s being hounded by her invisible, dead partner, eyebrows are inevitably raised.

It’s strangely reassuring in this CGI-addicted era to see how much suspense Whannell manages to generate with what is mostly a traditional, low-tech approach. Shadowy corners, unexplained sounds in the night, brief glimpses of ‘something’ glimpsed from the corner of an eye … all of these are used to great effect to ramp up the steadily building tension to almost unbearable levels. Furthermore, there are enough twists and turns in this retelling to keep an audience guessing. It’s only as the film thunders into the final stretch that we actually get to ‘see’ the villain’s invisibility… if that makes sense – and to realise that the only person who can help Cecilia out of this sitation is Cecilia herself.

Moss is, as you might expect, superb here, convincingly showing us a character pushed to the very edge of sanity by the machinations of a vengeful and highly inventive partner.

Originally concieved as part of Universal’s planned (and promptly abandoned) ‘Dark Universe’ series, The Invisible Man is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. And then some. Be warned. This is not one for those of a nervous disposition.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

What Men Want


Some readers may remember a film from the year 2000, entitled What Women Want. It starred (the yet to be disgraced) Mel Gibson, as a chauvinistic advertising executive, who, after an unfortunate accident involving a bath and an electric hair dryer, was suddenly granted the dubious gift of hearing what women thought about him. (Spoiler alert. They didn’t like him very much.)

This remake sticks pretty closely to the original story, but simply reverses the genders. The results, it must be said, are interesting – if somewhat patchy.

Ali Davis (Taraji B. Henson) works in the cutthroat world of sports management, where her modus operandi is to be every bit as arrogant, self-centred and downright unpleasant as the many competitive males who work alongside her. Her ultimate goal is to become a partner of the firm and she’s prepared to go to any lengths to secure that ambition. Indeed, she’s so repellant a character in these opening stretches that pretty soon, I’m honestly wondering if I really want to stay to the end.

However,  the film takes a sizeable step up when, after suffering a concussion at a nightclub, Ali wakes up with the ability to hear the thoughts of every male she encounters. This results in some genuinely funny scenes. The sequence where she stumbles through her open-plan workplace, assailed by an onslaught of unpleasant cerebral utterances is a hoot and Henson gives these broadly comic routines everything she’s got. But it’s not all plain sailing from here.

Pretty soon, Ali comes to terms with her ‘gift’ and realises that she can turn it to her advantage. In her attempts to sign rising  basketball star, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), to her agency, she enlists the unwitting help of a recent romantic conquest, Will (Aldis Hodge), and his little boy Ben (Austin Jon Moore), who she callously passes off as her husband and  son, something she entirely neglects to tell them about. When Will discovers the truth, he’s less than delighted. Ali needs to learn the error of her ways…

There’s a neat story about sexual politics bound up in all this and an overriding message that, at the end of the day, what both men and women want are fairly similar things – respect, loyalty and appreciation – but unfortunately there’s an unfocused tone to the film that prevents it from properly settling into a groove. The presence of phoney psychic, Sister (Erykah Badu), feels like a major misstep, since her caricatured persona and inane utterances are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers seem to think they are. But to make up for it there’s also a nicely nuanced performance from Brandon Wallace as Ali’s much-put-upon PA, Josh. Old timers like me will delight in spotting that the actor playing Ali’s father is none other than Richard Roundtree, who in 1971 played Detective John Shaft. (Right on!)

This is very much a game of swings and roundabouts. Each laugh-out-loud scene we are offered (and to be fair, there are several) is deflated by others that are rather less convincing – and I must confess that, with a less assured actor than Henson in the lead role, this might not fly at all.

It by no means terrible, but it fails to fully capitalise on its considerable potential.

3.3 stars

Philip Caveney