Fox // 2010 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // February 23rd, 2011
Conviction tells the story of Betty Anne Waters, a woman who dedicated 18 years of her life to getting her wrongly imprisoned brother released from jail. So basically it's total Oscar bait.
When her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell, Moon) is convicted of a vicious murder, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is left dazed and distraught. Convinced of Kenny's innocence, Betty Anne heads to law school, hoping that she might there attain the qualifications needed to begin fighting Kenny's case. As time passes Betty Anne gets help from a classmate Abra (Minnie Driver, Hope Springs) and lawyer Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher, Mr. Deeds), devoting every minute of her life to finding the DNA evidence that might lead to Kenny's deserved release.
Conviction is a pretty pedestrian film, improved by two strong central turns. The screenplay moves through its motions predictably, hitting the same notes of despair and joy folks have come to expect from such fare. Both Rockwell and Swank are on good form, the latter handing in a compelling performance full of tenacity and courage. If uplifting legal dramas are you're thing then Conviction is sure to impress, just don't approach the picture expecting anything you haven't seen before.
The fact Conviction is based on a real story is something of a positive; the film doing a fine job of highlighting the leaps and bounds Betty Anne Waters had to make in order to achieve her goal. Swank does a sound job of showcasing the determination the woman must have possessed, turning her into a believable character rather than a cheesy stereotype. The script is sculpted in a fashion that brings the highs with the lows, actively seeking to stimulate tears in a semi-manipulative way. However the quality of thespian input helps compensate for such misgivings, Rockwell also bringing a hardened sense of tragedy to the movie. Kenny is obviously a rascal, but the tender underbelly evident in Rockwell's work means he never seems like a killer. As a result audiences are likely to sympathize both with his situation and Betty Anne's cause, allowing them to overlook the formulaic screenplay.
Director Tony Goldwyn does a credible job behind the camera, guiding Conviction with a steady hand. There's not much ambition to be evidenced within the picture, Goldwyn content that the superficial story will engage viewers. As a result the director turns his hand to giving the movie a professional glean (it's a robust but unremarkable job) and editing the film economically. At 107 minutes, Conviction is timed efficiently, recanting its plot with minimum fuss or bombast. The slightly skewered timeline utilized in the production is an interesting little flourish, but otherwise it's a technically plain gig from start to finish. It gets the job done; Goldwyn obviously isn't bothered about attaching frills or glittering things up.
Conviction doesn't spend vast amounts of time in the courtroom, instead keeping its focus on Betty's struggle and Kenny's frustration. It depicts these facets adequately, and the perfunctory happy ending is palatable enough. Ultimately the picture's only truly distinctive merits are Swank and Rockwell; otherwise it's a very business as usual affair. Still, if you happen to catch it on TV in a few years there are lesser ways to kill two hours.
Fox supplied a screener so video and audio capabilities haven't been assessed. The only extra feature is a discussion between Goldwyn and the real Betty Anne Waters, which is definitely worth a look. It runs for 10 minutes and covers some pretty gripping ground, so if you happen to stumble upon this disc then be sure to check it out. However leaving that aside, this isn't a very appealing release.
Not Guilty, but hardly memorable either.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R