Conviction tells the real life, inspirational story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), whose brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell), was wrongfully accused of murder in 1983. Against all odds, Betty did everything it took to free him. She got her GED, bachelors, masters and eventually put herself through law school. She did all this while raising two children alone and working a part time job.
So ya, it’s one of those stories. Going against the odds, defying the rules, doing whatever it takes etc. A lot of the time the film plays out like a TV movie of the week. A melodrama in the purest sense. Real underdog story material. It takes a classic formula and plays it very much by the numbers. All the requisite scenes are here.
It’s a solid story and definitely one worth engaging in, whether you’re familiar with it or not. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t handle it as well as it could and we lose some of the emotional punch that a story like this should pack. It misses out on a number of opportunities and doesn’t quite reach its potential. That being said, this is in no way due to the acting, which is fantastic on all fronts.
Swank portrays Betty quite well as she brings fight and determination to the character, similar to what we saw in Million Dollar Baby. She gives the role an air of authenticity and delivers. It’s a subtle yet moving performance. Rockwell delivers a convincing performance as well and one of his best yet. He efficiently displays a wide range of emotions, making for a very memorable role. He fully inhabits the characters and the scenes he shares with Swank are stunningly real and moving. It’s a compelling performance and he’s a joy to watch.
Rockwell has a lot of potential and although this role didn’t earn him that Oscar nom, I’m sure he’ll receive it in the near future. Supporting performances are also fantastic. Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher all show off their skill and deliver in spades. This is a very strong cast and it’s a bit surprising none of them got nominated for the film.
The problems that the film has are numerous, but perhaps the most irritating one is the ending. They go for the Hollywood ending by making it uplifting and happy and while doing so, they leave out one very important detail. Kenny died six months after he got out, making everything Betty Anne did nothing more than a waste of time. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy here. Perhaps that would have given the film that emotional punch that it misses. And that’s really the problem.
It’s such a conventional film that it’s rather bland at times. You want to be caught up in it emotionally but you just don’t feel anything. Every element feels so routine. The film really hinges on that emotional pull but it’s just not there. It’s simply just anti-dramatic as it hinders along to a telegraphed ending. I understand that you can only do so much when basing your film on a true story but this movie seriously has far more cliches than any film should and writer Pamela Gray gives us zero in the way of suspense, which a story like this should carry.
Director Tony Goldwyn isn’t exactly in the good books either here. His direction is so flat and straight forward and it really pulls the film down. This film easily could have been a TV movie and in this day and age, that’s really awful. Filmmakers should be giving us a reason to see their films on the big screen. Don’t give me something that I could see on Hallmark’s Movie Of The Week.
The film also plays like a best of. We only see the highlights of this struggle. There is so much that isn’t shown. We rarely get to see Kenny in prison. The effects of Betty’s efforts on her husband are never explored. The sub-plot involving Kenny’s estranged daughter isn’t handled well and even the character of Nancy Taylor, who is an interesting one, is never fully fleshed out. So many details are just brushed aside and there just really isn’t much context.
At the end of the day, while the performances may be great, the film itself just isn’t very good. It’s way too routine, not fleshed out enough and rather uninspired. I’d recommend it for a watch just for the performances alone but don’t expect much more. And it’s a shame, because it’s a truly remarkable story, just not a remarkable movie.
Conviction was released on October 15th, 2010