Thursday, September 30, 2010


Film: Conviction (2010)
Dir: Tony Goldwyn
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Not all love stories look alike. They range from sweeping historical epics to light-hearted fairytales to Nicholas Sparks drivel. Conviction is a love story too, but this one is between a sister and a brother. Based on an incredible true story, the script is moving and filled with solid performances; however, it is marred by heavy-handed melodrama and sloppy directing. It is good for a few tugs on the heartstrings, but given its powerful subject matter, the movie could have been much better.

Hilary Swank portrays Betty Ann Waters, a real-life Massachusetts woman who dedicated her life to becoming a lawyer in order to exonerate her imprisoned brother. In 1983, Kenneth “Kenny” Waters was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery, and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Believing her brother to be innocent, Betty Ann set out to prove it. When no one could help her, she enrolled in college, and eventually law school, all while raising her own family. Meanwhile, the movie shows Kenny (Sam Rockwell) declining quickly in prison as his sister works tirelessly to save him.

The dedication of the real Betty Ann, as portrayed by Swank, is beautiful and moving. She sacrificed her life for Kenny, who became hopeless and even suicidal while imprisoned. The story is one of those unbelievable tearjerkers about the power of love and family. Swank pays fitting tribute to the real heroine with a strong, emotional performance. Rockwell really shines also, portraying Kenny with the kind of intensity only Sam can deliver. Minnie Driver and Peter Gallagher are also enjoyable as two lawyers who ultimately help Betty Ann in her struggle.

Although the performances are solid, the storytelling itself is lacking. Director Tony Goldwyn, who is best known for his acting, has helmed mostly romantic features in the past, and it shows here. A few scenes are excessively heavy-handed and sappy. The story itself is way more inspiring and gripping than the movie portraying that story. Furthermore, Goldwyn jumps all over the place with Betty Ann’s timeline. There is nothing wrong with a non-linear narrative, so long as it feels consistent and not muddled like this.

Conviction is a film worth seeing if only to experience the incredible real story of Betty Ann and Kenny Waters. Their tale is sure to inspire goose bumps and tears for even the toughest filmgoers. As amazing as the story is, it probably would have been equally effective if portrayed in a television piece or documentary because the storytelling here is weak. Aside from the actors, very little about the film itself stands out. The directing, cinematography, music, art design – nothing exceeds mediocre. Even the script is based very closely on the real events. Being a love story and an against-all-odds drama, this movie should be a lot more gripping. This is just one of those cases where real life is more extraordinary than film.


Sean D. said...

I was just stopping by to see if you posted anything about your new list when I saw you reviewed this. I think you pretty much nailed it here. Amazing story. Not such an amazing movie. It's not really bad... it just feels kind of paint-by-numbers. I agree the jumping around and skipping huge chunks of time was a bit distracting too, especially the first 15 minutes or so of the film. The beginning was all over the place. I realize Goldwyn was going for some kind of contrast, but I don't think it worked. Cutting between Kenny's time before prison, around the time of the murder, and in prison was just too much. Sometimes I really like when a film throws you into story somewhere in the middle or towards the end, but I didn't like being whipped about like that without a warm-up.

Tony said...

I love Sam Rockwell so despite your lukewarm review I will probably still see this eventually.

I still don't know what to think of Hillary Swank though. I still haven't seen Million Dollar Baby and the only real role I can remember seeing her in was the travesty that was The Next Karate Kid. Maybe this will give me some idea of her Academy Award-winning acting chops. (She's not hot though!)