My Days of Mercy shows two women holding the opposing opinions when it comes to the death penalty debate. One way or another, both Mercy (Kate Mara) and Lucy Moro (Elliot Page) find themselves outside of correctional facilities. Both women stand within their groups. But other than protests or bars, there’s apparently nothing to do in these prison towns. Despite their differences, they agree to have drinks together in a dive that would make Mercy, a prim lawyer, stick out. Cue the gentle ribbing between these characters, both accusing the other of seeing themselves as heartless. It’s a way for both actresses to show off what’s in their wheelhouses. Page has a sly and flirtatious way with words. Meanwhile, Mara knows how to emotionally appeal to the character next to her, making their eventual romance possible.
This, then, is a death penalty movie that’s really about the people with tangential connections to the debate. And there are silver linings in choosing to depict that issue through that perspective. For one, it shows how it’s ahead of the discourse, that even bad people don’t deserve death. Second, it also shows the price of activism, that Lucy chooses to go to these protests at the cost of her income. And sure, movies about friendship and romance have had more controversial backdrops. However there’s still something distasteful about using this issue just so that Page can cry at Mara every half hour. Lucy is both fighting for her father (Elias Koteas) in death row and her mother who died possibly at her father’s hands. But the frequency of the weepy moments make them feel less cathartic.
My Days of Mercy also has supporting actors who I like. Their presence work is more interesting since some barely get mainstream work. Thus, the gaps between seeing them in a movie every 11 years make for great surprises. It’s too bad that the screenplay gives them bad subplots. One subplot involves Lucy’s sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and their lawyer (Brian Geraghty). Lucy’s cynicism towards the lawyer is understandable. However, he has actual leads that could exonerate her father which she, in a baffling choice, treats with hostility. He’s also a lawyer whose unprofessional acts would have landed on some chatty Cathy’s ear within the movie. But it doesn’t. Anyway all his work leads to a reveal that suspends the film’s point. It would be more interesting if Lucy knew everything and still held to her beliefs.
While watching My Days of Mercy I couldn’t help but go on a rabbit hole about capital punishment in the US. This film comes out a day before the execution of a Navajo man, Lezmond Mitchell. He is the only Indigenous person this year to possibly receive capital punishment. He received a conviction for killing a woman and her granddaughter from the same Nation. Then another man might die a few days after him, etc. The crimes attached to them seem pretty heinous.
And sure, the courts decision ideally means that they actually did what they did. However, there’s a lack of reporting on these men’s defense. Credit is where credit is due and that this film shows the defense. But it whitewashes the issue. It’s too bad that again, that this important issue is just a backdrop for a romance between two unlikely people. Talking to people with different beliefs is fine but sleeping with them suspends disbelief.