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Movie ReviewsRating: 3 of 5 yaps

Conviction

“Conviction” is a well-meaning drama that contains absolutely zero surprises. Hilary Swank gives another strong, stubborn performance as a working-class woman who essentially put her life on hold for two decades to get her brother sprung from prison on a wrongful murder conviction. We know even before the arrest that he will eventually be let go, because why else would they bother making this movie, based on a true story?

Tony Goldwyn directs in a resolute, straightforward manner that never allows any doubts about who the good and bad guys are. Melissa Leo, playing the ambitious cop who made the arrest, is denied even a sliver of humanity. There’s one scene, years later, of Betty Anne Waters (Swank) confronting the cop, and she makes some weak excuse about being the only woman on the force in the early 1980s.

Tales of this officer’s misdeeds continue, but she’s never seen or heard from again. If she’s supposed to represent the villain of the piece, then screenwriter Pamela Gray does a poor job of setting her up as a worthy antagonist.

The story begins with the arrest of Betty Anne’s brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell). Because he has a criminal record, the local police harass him over every misdeed committed in the community. But officer Nancy Taylor (Leo) seems to hold a special grudge against him. Kenny is depicted as a rebellious spirit who loves his sister fiercely, but just can’t back down when he’s pushed.

After it’s clear no lawyer will touch the case, Betty Anne resolves to go to law school herself so she can represent her brother. Lacking even a high school diploma, this process takes years and years, during which time her marriage (Loren Dean plays the husband) dissolves and her relationship with her two sons grows strained.

What makes it a great role for Swank is that Betty Anne just won’t take no for answer and won’t give up — even when Kenny does. Rockwell gives a genuine performance of measured power, as Kenny’s will is slowly sapped out of him by the passing of time and the fading of hope. Rockwell makes us feel the years.

Minnie Driver plays a fellow older law student who offers her friendship and assistance, and Peter Gallagher plays Barry Scheck, the head of the Innocence Project, which provides a hand in getting Kenny freed. Juliette Lewis has a small, (unintentionally?) comic turn as one of the witnesses who helped seal Kenny’s fate, and now provides a key break in the case.

As a legal drama, “Conviction” doesn’t really have much plot to churn over. Betty Anne isn’t portrayed as some kind of blue-collar Eliza Doolittle who suddenly transforms into a legal savant. Their case is built entirely around the slim hope of finding some blood evidence that wasn’t destroyed so they can have it DNA tested.

I don’t know how many scenes there are of Betty Anne and her cohorts phoning, pleading, looking through storage rooms in search of the elusive DNA. Of course, we know it will eventually turn up. Once it’s found, though — a little more than an hour into the film’s run time — the story keeps finding ways to delay the inevitable, and milk the dramaturgy.

As is to be expected in a Hollywood movie, certain liberties have been taken. The film portrays the time between which the DNA evidence turned up until Kenny’s release as more than a year, when in fact it was something like two weeks.

Strangely, in the inevitable title cards right before the end credits that explain what happened to the various people, it doesn’t mention that Kenny Waters died in a fall a few months after getting out of prison.

As a film that got a lot of early mentions for Oscar contention, there’s no denying “Conviction” registers as a disappointment. Swank and Rockwell still give fine performances, almost enough to recommend the movie on that basis alone. The stubbornness of Betty Anne, though, is mirrored in the script’s tunnel-vision approach to storytelling, which doesn’t leave much room for nuance or complexity.

3 Yaps

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19 Responses to “Conviction”

  1. David says:

    Hilary is my all-time favorite actress, and I feel like this was another strong performance from her. I would love to see her get nominated for another Oscar, but it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen :(

    The movie, overall, is solid, but I do agree that it lacked some "punch". I mean, this woman didn’t even have her GED but still managed somehow to make her way through law school. That’s amazing in itself, and I wish the film would have detailed her struggles to accomplish such an amazing feat. All in all, I give the movie a solid "B".

  2. Jake Bray says:

    I really enjoyed this movie I love hillary swank

  3. simplepurity says:

    I have yet to see "Conviction," but am very eager to. My comment relates to there being "no surprises" in it. With all the uncertainty there is in the world, our communities, and our personal lives, sometimes a "predictable" movie is a good thing. It’s enjoyable, periodically, to be able to just go a darkened theatre, nestle down into a comfortable seat, relax with one’s popcorn and beverage, and just be purely entertained. The bonus with this one is knowing that it’s based in fact. Looking forward to seeing it!

  4. Madonna says:

    My husband and I went to see Conviction last night, we were the only ones in the theater for the showing at 10:25pm. The movie was great and I would recommend it everyone.

  5. miskay says:

    I am a sucker for sad movies and even more when they are true stories so Im going to see this asap glad for the article and all the posts

  6. Amanda says:

    I considered seeing this film at the Heartland Film Festival but decided to see something else. I guess that was a good decision. I may still give this a chance after it comes out on DVD. We’ll see.

  7. Jon Sartain says:

    A truly sad story that shows the bond between siblings. The acting was wonderful, but it was painful to see how much her family struggled because of the arrest.

  8. Gina Fox says:

    I thought this movie was good. The acting was wonderful and I even thought the story line was good. Yes, it didn’t have many surprises, but it was a really great story to watch unfold. I am sad to read in these comments that Kenny passed not long after he was released from prison. I also think that Minnie Driver played a wonderful role, who no one really has been mentioning!

  9. Julie Wakley says:

    This movie was better than I expected it to be. As usual, Hilary Swank hits it out of the park as Betty Anne and Sam Rockwell did a superb job as her brother. I would recommend this movie to my friends and family.

  10. WHAT A G R E A T MOVEI !!!! VERY INSPIRATIONAL !!! A+ WITH ME !

  11. Brandy says:

    Hilary Swank is one of my favorite actresses. She always plays her character well.

  12. Mark says:

    Totally agree with the review. Slow moving at times and totally predictable. The story is very interesting and love Hilary Swank’s performance, but the script is not up to par with that performance.

  13. Mel Gonzalez says:

    "Conviction" to me was a solid "B". I def agree with the other comments and the review. The acting was def a lot better than the story was, which is a pity since Hilary Swank is such a great actress. Sam Rockwell also did an amazing job.

  14. toya says:

    I liked "Conviction", but I agree that it lacked a "wow factor".

  15. Jenny Brusslan says:

    Hilary Swank will be nominated for an Oscar this movie. I agree there were several scenes that could have been condensed. My favorite scenes of the movie were of Betty Ann and Kenny when they were young. I agree there were no surprises throughout the movie. I am not one to try and figure out what is going to happen while watching a movie. I thought Kenny was going to be killed or kill someone in prison before the truth came out.

    You mentioned that Kenny died a few months after being released. I didn’t know this until a few days after watching the movie. A New York times article discussed this issue. The original movie showed that Kenny had died. Test audiences were so upset that it was cut from the movie.

  16. Robert Baumann says:

    I was glad to see this movie . It is very heartfelt and true. Thanks for bringing back memories!
    Two thimbs way up!

    Robert Baumann

  17. Brandon Scales says:

    Great review of the movie. I liked it and it deserves oscar nominations because of its great story and how it brought you in for the whole movie.

  18. Hollie Zehnder says:

    I pretty much agree with this review. I thought that Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell’s acting was really good, but the movie itself was a bit sleepy at times. It was a good story line, but I would have liked to have seen the bad cop being punished.