Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Peter Gallagher, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Clea Duvall, Bailee Madison
Written by Pamela Gray
There is a scene early on in Conviction when Kenny Waters (Rockwell), who has brought his young child into a bar with loud, live music, along with the mother of the child, his sister Betty Anne, and her fiancé. While dancing with the child in front of the band, he knocks into another patron. This patron then gives him some an unfortunate response about bringing his kid into a bar. Kenny, gives one of those apologies. You know, those apologies. Next thing you know, he gives the kid to his mother, turns back on the other guy, then beats and threatens him with a broken glass. Everyone at his table is jarred by this action, but eventually, with Kenny acting goofy and dancing again, his sister (Swank) eventually starts to smile. Then his girlfriend smiles. Betty Anne’s fiancé never does. I am that guy.
The accents are heavy and the stoicism is deep in Conviction. You don’t get much emotional range in a movie where the primary focus is getting a bad seed brother out of jail. It is a heaping helping of helplessness. Swank does her level best to portray the single mother, devoted sister going to school to fight against the world. Her accent, at least, is commendable. Her grades are pushing her to the brink of being kicked out of school. Her kids want to go live with her father, who left her because she, you know, could not accept her brother’s conviction for murder of an old lady. In short, she is Job, but instead of faith in God, it is in her brother. She does thank God, though, when she passes the Legal Bar Exam 18 years later.
One night early in her quest for that law exam, while working in a drinking bar, she comes across a fellow student who befriends her strictly because she is a similar age. If for no other reason than to have a counter balance in the story, her friend Abra (Minnie Driver) is there. When Betty Anne is down, Abra is up. When Betty Anne pushes on despite all seeming possibility, Abra is there to tell her to give up. Until later, when it’s time to be friends again.
Rockwell has made a career of playing ne’er do wells, and he isn’t breaking any new ground here. It is interesting to see the very real dynamic he portrays with Swank. He presents the kind of person that one would be leery of even if he were not convicted of a major crime. His reconciliation with his daughter, Mandy, is the best thing about the movie. He portrays the mixture of emotions just about right.
The script, based on a true story, is remarkable in at least one way. The actions of the District Attorney, Martha Coakley and police officer Nancy Taylor (played with minimal effectiveness). Their actions in the face of incontrovertible evidence show how far some people will go to keep an innocent person down where they think he should be.
In total, the story is a nice, true story. I admire the personal journey and the sacrifices that the real Betty Anne Waters made. That said, I don’t think this movie was as much made for her and her brother than it was for the director and actors involved. There is not much that is truly remarkable about the direction, the script or the acting in Conviction. Dramas like this are a made to look like a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and that is too bad.
As an aside, the real Kenny Waters died not 6 months after being freed due to a freak accident. His sister, however, turned their shared misery into a career of working to overturn wrongful convictions. Like I said, it is a nice, true story. Sometimes nice true stories aren’t meant for the big screen.
(*** out of *****)