2010, R, 107 min. Directed by Tony Goldwyn. Starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis, Clea DuVall, Karen Young.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 29, 2010
Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Swank), a high school dropout and single mom who spends 18 years of her life getting a GED and law degree for the express purpose of exonerating her brother Kenny (Rockwell) from prison, where he is serving a life sentence for a murder she believes he did not commit. The movie is a fairly boilerplate affair about the long, hard slog to fight injustice, though, to be fair, most of the personal slog is left out of the drama. One scene mentions that Betty Anne just got her GED, in another we see her asleep at her desk with an unfinished torts paper, then the next thing we know, she's passing the bar exam. As for her bartending job, one wonders how she ever managed to clock in before last call. However, as the title says, this is a story about conviction and not a procedural. As such, Swank is well-cast as the movie's working-class heroine possessed of a singular purpose and a strong regional accent: It's the kind of character that won her Oscars for both Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Rather than focus on the details of Betty Anne's personal struggle, Conviction spends more time depicting her jailhouse visits with Kenny and recurring flashbacks that help explain the uncommon bonds of loyalty between the two that were forged during their harsh childhood. The outcome of the story is never in doubt, and in this regard Conviction pales in comparison with the last pairing of screenwriter Pamela Gray and director Goldwyn: 1999's unconventional love story, A Walk on the Moon. Rockwell commands attention as a character whose pent-up seething has become something of a specialty for the actor. Most notable in Conviction are the secondary roles, however. Leo, as the arresting cop, plays an ignoble character for a change; Driver is solid as Betty Anne's best friend Abra Rice; and Gallagher portrays Barry Scheck, whose Innocence Project and its promotion of DNA evidence helped reopen the musty case. In two scenes as Kenny's trashed-out, perjuring ex-girlfriend, Lewis delivers the kind of delectable performance that is remembered at awards time. And though the film conveys a satisfactory sense of justice being served, the final resolution is nevertheless unsettling. Although it is proven that Kenny Waters is not the brutal murderer of Katharina Brow, his exoneration means that the woman's real killer has escaped justice and is, presumably, still on the loose.