PLOT: When her brother is arrested for murder, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), a high school drop-out and single mother, works to put herself through law school with the hope of one day freeing her incarcerated sibling (Sam Rockwell), who maintains his innocence. Based on a true story.
REVIEW: CONVICTION is one of those films you'd assume would be a sure-fire lock for a whole bunch of Oscar nominations come January. It's got a high profile, pedigreed cast (Swank having already won twice, for BOYS DON'T CRY & MILLION DOLLAR BABY), and it's based on an inspiring true story. Sounds like a sure fire winner, right?
Well, in a respect, I suppose one could call CONVICTION a good film. There's nothing about it that's particularly bad, and it'll certainly hold your attention for it's 100 minute running time. However, it can't help but like it's missing something, and seeing this smack dab in the middle of the Toronto Film Fest, in between films like BLACK SWAN, THE KING'S SPEECH, and 127 HOURS, CONVICTION could help pale in comparison.
A month after seeing it, I still can't pinpoint exactly what keeps CONVICTION from being a great film, rather than a passable one. Everyone involved does good work, with Swank making an appealing heroine (although her affected BAH-ston accent is grating, and done much better in THE TOWN). Sam Rockwell, as her imprisoned brother is particularly good, with this being yet another in a series of great performances he's given over the last few years (for my money, he deserved an Oscar nod for both MOON, and his searing turn in SNOW ANGELS). While he's playing a guy who's wrongfully accused, Rockwell plays him with enough edge that you can see how his character could survive prison for two decades.
I suppose my big issue with CONVICTION is that it just feels too conventionally Hollywood. It's directed by former actor- turned director Tony Goldwyn, whose last big screen effort was THE LAST KISS, a film many seemed to hate, but I enjoyed. Goldwyn does an OK job behind the camera, but it did feel at times that he was trying too hard to make CONVICTION into another ERIN BROKOVICH. One thing that really bugged me is the fact that the film takes place over twenty years, but only Rockwell seems to age, with Swank always looking like she's in her early thirties. I also thought it was s shame that Juliette Lewis gets such a short amount of screen time, as her brief confrontation with Swank is easily the strongest part of the movie. Swank's relationship with her kids could have also used some fleshing out.
I also hated the heavy use of flashbacks to the characters troubled childhoods. Granted, they're trying to establish the bond between siblings, but this strikes me as a heavy handed way to go about doing that. There's enough warmth between Rockwell and Swank that these flashbacks weren't needed, and the fact that they had a rough upbringing could have been established in another way.
Still, CONVICTION's not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. I still found it reasonably engaging, and if I had say, caught this on cable as opposed to TIFF, I might have been really impressed. While it doesn't strike me as a major Oscar contender, it's still an enjoyable true life tale that would make a solid DVD rental at some point.