Much of My Days of Mercy, directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer and written by Joe Barton, concerns a young woman trying to find herself. She is Lucy, brought to life by a fragile performance from Ellen Page and conscripted into an anti-death penalty protest movement due to the actions of her own father, alleged to have killed their family’s mother. As you can imagine, it’s been difficult for Lucy to navigate all this. So it goes for the film, too.
Matters are complicated when Lucy meets Mercy (Kate Mara), a woman from the so-called “other side.” Yes, despite coming from opposite sides of the ideological divide, these two carry on a meet-cute anyway, becoming entangled in each other’s lives. In truth, it’s a relief from the searing drama roiling underneath My Days of Mercy, with much of the film given over to their effectively dreamy romance. It’s enough to wonder if maybe the film should have been about that exclusively, rather than insist on its prison drama. Structured around an execution date for their dad Simon (a contained Elias Koteas), we instead must sort out the family struggles between Lucy and her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz), and find time for their younger brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell), too. An unnecessarily tense lawyer (Brian Geraghty) also puts in a few appearances, working yet another angle. In all, Shalom-Ezer’s film has a surplus of emotion—romantic, familial, personal—all of which seeks resolution, yet rests uneasily against its chosen capital punishment subject matter.
Now, I’d be remiss in not mentioning that My Days of Mercy was first released on the festival circuit in 2017. Much like its central family, it’s taken time for Shalom-Ezer’s work to gain traction and make progress—as small as that seems now, years later. It’s clear both on-screen and off that a struggle was worth having here, however far away both conclusions seem. And even if the finished product, which does find moments of cinematic beauty, can only offer an unearned sense of closure.