Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo
A Conversation with Tony Goldwyn and Betty Anne Waters
Be honest. After Hilary Swank's less than impressive turn in last year's Oscar bait Amelia, you found yourself thinking "Can she do anything that's not biographical in nature?"
In Conviction, Swank is Betty Anne, a single mother who works tirelessly and goes to law school trying to overturn what she sees as her brother's (Sam Rockwell) unjust murder conviction.
Yes, it's another biopic for the always game for an inspirational story Swank.
This IS an inspirational story, not even made less so if you happen to know how this story ultimately turned out a few months after Betty Anne's 18-year journey ends with the help of DNA testing and her own relentlessly thorough investigation.
While everything about Conviction screams out that this is going to be yet another Lifetime Channel "Movie of the Week" type adventure, Swank is at the top of her game here as a high school drop-out and single mother of two who spent her childhood in and out of foster homes and, quite frequently, apart from her often in trouble brother, Kenny.
Swank is one of those occasionally intrusive actresses. That is, when her material is weak and one-note, Swank's toothy grin becomes a calling card just like Tom Cruise's smile and distracts from everything that's going on such as what happened in last year's Amelia and, to a lesser degree, even with Million Dollar Baby. When Swank is on and centered, however, she's one of Hollywood's leading actresses and such is the case here as she beautifully, and with great discipline, portrays a woman who is simultaneously mother, friend, lawyer, student, employee, etc.
While he's given much more to work with here, the always strong Sam Rockwell is even stronger than usual exhibiting an emotional range he's seldom had the opportunity to portray onscreen and embodying Kenny's wounded nature, his poor choices and his innate sibling chemistry with Betty Anne that never wavers. When Swank and Rockwell are onscreen together, it's as if we're sitting there watching a brother and sister protect and defend and fight for one another. The script by Pamela Gray doesn't abandon Kenny's faults, acknowledging that there's darn good reasons he was suspected of murder and his life was anything but exemplary.
Melissa Leo is spot-on perfect as Kenny's arresting officer, while Minnie Driver gives Conviction its few lighter moments as Betty Anne's classmate, friend and investigative companion.
Occasionally, director Tony Goldwyn can't quite seem to figure out how to manage the film's excessively dramatic arc and Conviction dips into cinematic formula and predictability, however, in the able hands of co-leads Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell Conviction has a rock solid case for cinematic success.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic