My Days of Mercy is a film about a couple who meet on opposing sides of the death penalty debate. It has some interesting ideas and hints at some weighty themes but never really has the conviction to properly follow it through and the result is a little unsatisfying.
My Days of Mercy follows the growing relationship between Lucy (Ellen Page) and Mercy (Kate Mara), who find themselves on either side of the debate on the death penalty. In fact, they actually meet on opposing sides of a protest outside a prison where an inmate is due to be executed. It’s an unconventional premise for a meet-cute and that gave me some sense of hope that the film might do something a little different. Sadly, the way that Lucy and Mercy meet is the only slightly novel thing about the film; everything else felt largely by the numbers.
Lucy lives with her sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell) after their father is sentenced to death for allegedly killing their mother and this understandably seems to be the motivator for traveling the country to protest outside a prison. The two of them seem sure that if they can prevent anyone else from being executed they have a chance with their father.
I wanted desperately to like My Days of Mercy. It had all of the ingredients that should have blended together well, but the net result is just a little bland and I think that it’s a real shame. It’s a film that is well made and has pretty much universally good performances, with Ellen Page being a particular standout. The problem is that everything feels very superficial; once you start to examine things too closely you realize that this is what the film is going to be, there aren’t any twists and turns to really make you think.
My biggest issue with the film was that there was no real reason for the characters to do the things that they did. Things just seem to happen because the plot dictates it and it’s what normally happens in these kinds of films. I felt like I could see the joins and everything going on behind the curtain and it was too apparent that I was watching actors perform a script. Don’t get me wrong: they do well with what they’ve got, I just wish they’d had a bit more to work with.
There is a lot on screen that we have seen before. You can almost run down a list of the characters we’re going to see, the small town attitudes that they will have to contend with, and the tensions between them. They’re all present and correct. That in itself isn’t a bad thing but it is when the film decides to always go for the path of least resistance. For example, a character has to come out to her family, and up until this point, we’ve been told they’re a very conservative family so there could be trouble ahead. The reality is that this just gets waved away with nothing more than ‘oh yeah, they’re cool’.
My Days of Mercy is fine, but aggressively so. It’s entertaining and I actually enjoyed it while I was watching it but I was just left thinking ‘was that it?’. It felt like going out to get fast food – on paper I was looking forward to it initially but then once I’d finished I was still left unsatisfied and more than a little disappointed. It’s the film equivalent of empty calories, really, and it’s frustrating more than anything else because I think by asking just one or two more probing questions this could have been something very good.