Old 10-28-2010, 09:06 PM
Tony Goldwyn's Conviction

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Conviction (2010)

"Conviction" is based on a fascinating true story of a sister's undying devotion to her brother. However, while the story itself is interesting, that doesn't necessarily mean it will translate well to the screen. In order to engage the audience in the story, a way must be found to make the story compelling enough to pull them along for the ride, but in this case, the filmmakers seem to have mistaken "melodramatic" for "compelling."

At the start of the film, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is already in jail and his sister, Betty Anne (Hillary Swank), is working very hard to get him out. Flashbacks reveal their childhood together and how they were inseparable. However, they were also always getting into a lot of trouble. They were eventually taken away from their mother, who was apparently always working, and placed in separate foster homes.

We eventually learn what Kenny was sentenced to life in jail for. In 1980, he is first accused of the murder of a local girl, but let off due to lack of evidence. Two years later, he is arrested again for the same murder with new evidence against him, including DNA that matches his type (this was before specific DNA matching technology) and witnesses who claim he confessed to them. Betty Anne believes him to be innocent and sets out to prove just that. She devotes her life to this by first getting a high school degree, then a college degree, and eventually entering law school. It's a lot of work that takes away time from her family, but she is steadfast in her determination to save her brother.

"Conviction" has already been compared to a Lifetime "movie of the week," and in some ways it is, but it ends up having a little more going for it. The performance given by two-time Academy Award-winner Hillary Swank ends up being the best thing about the film. She is able to bring out Betty Anne's determination very well and has the audience going with her for most of the journey.

Then there's the strange addition of the talented Sam Rockwell, who blew audiences away last year with his performance(s) in "Moon." He does a satisfactory job, but it seems as though he is phoning his performance in for the most part. It certainly doesn't help much that the part is not particularly challenging, nor is he given very much to do throughout the film. His scenes are mainly reduced to visits from his sister while he's in jail where he merely gets to react to the news that she brings. Luckily, he gets at least a few scenes outside of the prison that allow him to show his talents.

The main problem of the film, and the one that most likely gave rise to the Lifetime comparisons, is that it comes off as more melodramatic rather than compelling. The filmmakers are obviously trying to enhance the dramatic aspect of it in an attempt to make you care about the characters, which works in part, but it becomes hard to remain compelled by a film where you already know the obvious outcome.

What the film ends up being is a by-the-numbers procedural that takes us from Kenny's arrest to his sister trying to get him free to the inevitable outcome. When you know what's to come, there's very little chance for the film to build much suspense as it proceeds. This leads to a few minor quibbles I had in the third act, but then I simply asked myself, how else could they have done this or how would they have been able to make this any more surprising? Since it supposedly happened this way, I guess they didn't want to stray far from the truth.

While overall it doesn't work well enough as a film, there are certainly things to admire about it, like the inspiring story. The fact that Kenny's sister devoted so many years of her life to helping him is simply amazing. At one point during the film, Kenny is asked something along the lines of "How are you going to thank your sister for all of her hard work?" His reply is that he has no idea. It's a fair reply. How could such devotion ever be paid back? 2.5/4 stars.
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