Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Opens Friday, October 22nd locally, Rated R
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Starring: Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo
Directed by Tony Goldwyn (The Last Samurai)
"Conviction" is a great and fitting title for this movie, a "based on a true" story shot entirely in Michigan. The movie centers on the real life Betty Anne Waters (Swank), an unemployed single mom who's brother is convicted of murder. The brother Kenneth (Rockwell), is a trouble-maker but not a killer...he vehemently denies the accusations. Betty Anne, in order to prove her brother's innocence, first takes her GED, then bachelor's, then master's, before earning a law degree. All of this to exonerate her brother of the charges, while also raising her two boys and supporting them any way she can. So on one level, the movie is about the "conviction" of Kenny Waters, but the true meaning of the film is the "conviction" of Betty Anne's character: the dictionary definition of which is "an unshakable belief in something without the need for proof or evidence."
Order in the court. Ultimately, the movie "Conviction" is a standard court-room drama, and the kind of movie that we've seen many times before...Kenny is the criminal, but is he a killer? The movie doesn't let us know along the way, which adds to the story of Betty Anne's journey...how horrible would it be if she spent 18 years of her life to prove her brother's innocence only to have it turn out that he was in fact guilty. But we go along, and the movie plays out in a predictable fashion.
The strength of the movie comes in the first half hour, where the story is told out-of-order, mixing in scenes from their pasts with scenes in the present. This, to me, worked very well...it made the story more interesting and less like a generic Law & Order episode. Sadly, this method is abandoned after the first half hour, with the largest chunk of the film playing out chronologically. It's at that point where the movie falls back into "been there, done that" territory.
Convincing performances. Worth watching though, are the incredibly strong performances of the two leads, Hillary Swank and most notably Sam Rockwell. Swank is very good here, as always, and she brings a lot of "conviction" to the role. Sam Rockwell seems to always play this type of character...the hardnose trashy dangerous type...but just because we've seen him in this kind of a role shouldn't take away any credit given to him. Even in playing the same stereotype, he is one of the better character actors in Hollywood right now...He's great here, nearly award-worthy if not deserving altogether. It'd be great to see him branch out as a lead man down the road.
Final Verdict. The film doesn't address the sadness that follows after the end credits, that after fighting for 18 years to exonerate her brother (and succeeding), Kenny Waters had exactly 3 months of freedom before dying tragically in a fall. That she went through all of that, and he wasn't able to live a free man for too long makes the story of her conviction even more heart-breaking. In the movies though, we don't need a full dose of reality, and the story wraps up at a good point to put a nice bow on Betty Anne's journey without delving into these details. And that's the problem with the movie...it is too conventional and deliberate despite some fine performances throughout. If you are looking for a good, clean legal-drama it may be worth a look...otherwise, you may walk away saying, "haven't I seen this before?"
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