Movie review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Clea DuVall, Peter Gallagher, Owen Campbell
Director: Tony Goldwyn
The problem with CONVICTION isn’t in its motive. It certainly isn’t in the acting and the story is an engaging true-life tale. No, the problem with CONVICTION is that it doesn’t know which story to tell and ends up telling so many the power of the tale is lost.
CONVICTION is the true story of Betty Ann and Kenny Waters, brother and sister with a less than perfect upbringing. When Kenny is sentenced to life for a murder he says he did not commit, Betty Ann resolves to prove his innocence even to the extent of becoming a lawyer herself, to fight his case for him and proving his innocence.
Jumping through time, we go back and see how these two neglected youngsters formed a bond, Kenny always involving his younger sister in his activities but also being fiercely loyal to her. When the story moves to and past the murder of which Kenny is accused, we lose a little of the relationship and it is here that I think the film goes off track.
Hilary Swank plays Betty Ann with a simplicity and determination that should make her a sympathetic lead, but too often we are given “pencil strokes” of her life, when we should be allowed to dig deeper. Here is a character we should easily admire and feel admiration and sympathy for, but too often we do not.
Minnie Driver is excellent and witty and adds a warmth to Hilary Swank’s character that she fails to show in her other relationships. A husband is so thinly painted we barely notice him leaving. Brothers and sisters are mentioned but never seen.
As Kenny, Sam Rockwell is faultless, a mix of charm and danger. But herein lies one of the major problems with the film. Sam Rockwell is a fantastic actor who can make a minor role a memorable one. However, this story could either focus on Kenny in prison or Betty Ann outside. It struggles to manage both storylines and because Rockwell is a more charismatic screen presence than Swank here, her story gets overwhelmed in places.
Director Tony Goldwyn, probably best known as an actor, makes a good job for the most part. The film has a realistic sheen and a timeless quality to the costumes and sets, which works while the actors do not visibly age or change with the passing of the years. Although this works on one level, we lose the sense of time passing both inside and outside of prison.
CONVICTION is a moving story and as film, it is hard not to be moved by the strength of characters, but sadly it is not as affecting as the performances or the real life story that the characters deserve.