Published Aug 24, 2020Putting the personal over the political is at the heart of Tali Shalom Ezer's moving tale of a star-crossed romance bridging the two sides of one of the more contentious debates facing the American legal system. Following the ill-fated infatuation between two activists on the contending sides of the capital punishment question, My Days of Mercy makes the wise decision for this raging discourse to inform but never truly eclipse the budding relationship between its two leads. Those invested in either side of the argument will not have their points reaffirmed by the lovestruck pining between Lucy (Ellen Page) and Mercy (Kate Mara), and Ezer allows the relationship to fully bloom despite the contentious nature of the central debate.
The natural, enthralling chemistry between Page and Mara is the foundational strength of My Days of Mercy — due to the ineffable skill of these actors bouncing flirtations between them in an enchanting rally, and also thanks to how Joe Barton's script uses the political context to add depth to their nascent romance. Lucy follows her big sister Martha (played with devastating emotional impact by Amy Seimetz) cross-country for protests and demonstrations due to their father (Elias Koteas) being on death row, but she remains internally conflicted over his supposed innocence. Mercy, likewise, finds herself on the other side by happenstance, but neither feels truly passionate about the issue, and it mostly serves to occasionally intensify their clandestine affair.
The scenes between Lucy and Mercy are a revelation of playful, multifaceted intimacy which are carried powerfully by Page and Mara. Betraying a palpable internal conflict behind their flirtatious banter, Ezer allows for them to grow beyond the one-dimensional dichotomy of their political differences and define one another in tenderness. Captured with deftness, the plot thickens as each story beat moves closer to the execution date of Lucy's father. Their relationship develops as their investment in the debate get supplanted by their feelings for one another. Ezer knows where the strength in her film lies and fully gives it over to the engrossing dynamic between Page and Mara.
As a fairly traditional star-crossed love story, Barton's script fits into a predictable mould — even capital punishment debate doesn't fully set it apart — but the film is immensely rewarding due to the central performances. Page and Mara shine brightly with their effortless chemistry and striking performances, and Koteas and Seimetz anchoring supporting roles add much needed layers of conflict. Striking a balance between uplifting and shattering, My Days of Mercy is an endearing film that shows how love can blossom poignantly in the grey areas of a debate. (A71)