This review was originally published as part of our BFI Flare coverage on 21/03/2018.
Ellen Page fans can breathe a (moderate) sigh of relief. My Days of Mercy, her second high-profile LGBT film, doesn’t repeat the crushing disappointment of the first, 2016’s deplorable Freeheld.
It’s largely Page’s performance that anchors Mercy. After easing in with Page doing a lot of languid hanging around, Shalom-Ezer relaxes the mood building and allows Barton’s narrative to get into gear. There are shades of the snarky, witty Ellen Page we fell in love with in 2007’s Juno, yet as Mercy progresses a far more complex character, and a performance to match, emerges. Lucy is a woman of many layers, and Page makes them affectingly tangible; there’s compromised commitment to family, suppressed pain, and, especially touching, an exuberant brave face for the sake of her younger brother (Shotwell).
Amy Seimetz, too, gives a wonderful performance that blossoms gradually from second fiddle – she’s the steadfast wallflower to Lucy’s privileged protagonist status – into a wrenching character study.
Kate Mara, albeit in the simplest main role, is able to chart Mercy’s interlocking internal conflicts without the aid of an expositional screenplay to spell them out.
Mercy’s preference for the implicit is a boon to the actors and emotional character arcs, but a barrier to Shalom-Ezer presenting much of an ideological stance. Though in synopsis Mercy sounds like a morally ambiguous plot the author Jodi Picoult would dream up, the film’s greatest disappointment is its failure to step beyond the sidelines of the issues – capital punishment, sexuality – it engages with.
Unfortunately, Mercy and Lucy’s flirting doesn’t escape the cringeworthyness that also characterises depictions of early-stage lesbian relationships in Freeheld and Battle of the Sexes (please, no more sensual hairdressing scenes).
A triumphant female-led film, Mercy soars on the weight of its triptych of great performances, but isn’t ballsy enough with its provocative premise.
CAST: Kate Mara, Ellen Page, Brian Geraghty, Elias Koteas
DIRECTOR: Tali Shalom-Ezer
WRITER: Joe Barton
SYNOPSIS: The daughter of a man on death row falls in love with a woman on the opposing side of her family’s political cause.