Movie Review: Conviction
After steady television work and three forgettable romantic features, actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn has taken a giant leap forward. Basd on the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters, via a script by Pamela Gray—who also wrote his debut—Conviction premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with some Oscar buzz behind it. The plotline concerns a woman’s drive to free her brother, serving a life sentence for murder. To do it, she puts herself through law school in order to become his attorney. The lead performances by Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank, along with the steady hand of Goldwyn, steer the story away from made-for-TV conventions.
The Waters family would never have been considered upstanding citizens in their small town. Kenny (played by Rockwell) has had occasional run-ins with the law, and is brought in as a suspect. His arresting officer, Melissa Leo’s Nancy Taylor, has a chip on her shoulder, and refuses to look beyond the fact that Kenny presents the best shot at solving the case. With unexpected perjury and pre-DNA-test-era forensic work, Rockwell's character doesn't stand a chance.
Swank as Kenny's sister Betty Anne, refuses to believe her affectionate, if misguided, brother could commit such a crime. The relationship between Swank and Rockwell is the strongest aspect of the film. Told in part through flashbacks, the film begins with Betty Anne visiting Kenny, already tattooed and gray. Throughout the film, we learn of their shared childhood, which includes paternal negligence and foster care. Once Kenny is jailed, Betty Anne dedicates two decades of her life in pursuit of his freedom.
Goldwyn should be credited for staying away from the clichés into which a story like Conviction could easily have fallen. Swank is great as Waters, forcefully embodying both her frustration and her determination. And Rockwell’s successful portrayal is crucial to the audience believing he is innocent and wanting him to see him set free.
Finally, Juliette Lewis, in a very small but powerful role as an ex-girlfriend of Rockwell, helps to set the tone of the town's overall makeup. The film may be a tad too long; towards the end, it drags the audience back for another thirty minutes of legalities. But this viewer remained invested throughout the film, riding the ups and downs of an enthralling story.
 Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell in CONVICTION; Photo by Ron Batzdorff
 L-R: Sam Rockwell and Melissa Leo in CONVICTION; Photo by Ron Batzdorff