Movie review – Relentless slog for justice

2011-03-04 09:06

Film: Conviction (Nu Metro)
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Featuring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo and Minnie Driver
Rating: 6/10

Conviction is a well-meaning but stolid film about the shocking wrongful conviction of Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell).

Based on a true story, it tells the tale of how Kenny’s sister, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), stuck by her brother and, after a gruelling two decades, finally manages to get him exonerated.

To do so she passes high school, gets a degree, gets another one and finally gets admitted to the bar to become a lawyer.

Director Tony Goldwyn, who played the villain in 1990’s Ghost, has directed some of our favourite TV shows over the last decade – from Dirty Sexy Money and Dexter to Private Practice and Damages – but his success on the big screen is more patchy.

With only two so-so romantic comedies (Someone Like You and The Last Kiss) under his belt, this hard-hitting legal drama seems beyond him despite his small-screen experience with the genre.

Conviction has no moments of joy and no interludes of levity – it’s one unrelenting slog for justice. Swank is humourless and intense as Betty Anne and Rockwell is crass and objectionable as the victim, leaving the audience with no one to really like.

While watching, it’s clear that Kenny’s being set up, but he’s so hard to like that one really battles to get into his corner.

You could argue that that’s the point: just because someone’s an idiot who runs his mouth off doesn’t mean he deserves to be railroaded by the law.

The makers, though, could have gone in softer and made the characters a little less real and a lot more sympathetic.

The film mentions once, obliquely, that if the state had the death penalty Kenny would be dead, but it doesn’t really engage with that hot potato either.

Oscar-winner Melissa Leo is the cop who sets Kenny up in the first place and Peter Gallagher takes on the part of Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project, who helps Betty Anne overturn her brother’s conviction.

Rounding out the cast is Minnie Driver as Abra Rice, a bubbly woman who inexplicably pursues Betty Anne as a friend and gets sucked into her obsession.

Conviction is well made and competently acted, but it gets the unfortunate sentence of dull-but-worthy, a damning conviction indeed.

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