Don’t you just love Oscar-bait movies? You know the type: the lead actress is often playing against her looks, working with an accent and playing a ballsy, real-life character (see The Hours, The Blind Side, Erin Brockovich etc). And since the Oscars are right around the corner (February 27), it was only a matter of time before the next sassy, take-no-prisoners female lead movie reared it’s frizzy-haired head. Cue Hilary Swank playing a convict’s sister-turned-lawyer in Conviction.
Although your first instinct might be to dismiss this one as a made-for-TV movie – and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark – somehow Swank and co are able to make the best of a fairly mediocre script and boring direction. Based on the true story of Betty-Anne Waters, the film follows her struggle to free her falsely accused brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) after he is imprisoned for murder. Not having the funds to pay his bail and a blind belief that Kenny is innocent, Betty-Anne starts a crusade to free him that begins with becoming a lawyer herself.
The film darts back and forth from Kenny and Betty-Anne’s neglected childhood to her present day struggle to be a lawyer. This gives the film some necessary back-story to explain how a sister could become such a devoted sibling, but it leaves every other character under-developed – like Melissa Leo’s deliciously cold police officer, Nancy Taylor. Though she’s really the villain-of-the-piece, Nancy is relegated to just three scenes, a massive oversight considering how popular Melissa Leo is with the Oscar voters and how hard this movie is trying to get one.
Betty-Anne’s dogged efforts to keep her brother alive and sane whilst trying to do the same for herself on the outside pull desperately at the heartstrings and Swank shines like the Oscar winner she is. Will she get another nod for Conviction? Probably not, but at least people will remember that she’s better than what she’s been doing for the past five years (P.S. I Love You, The Reaping etc).
Rockwell is on fine form as the likeable but bad-tempered Kenny whose mental and physical deterioration behind bars is evident through his sister’s prison visits. Minnie Driver puts in a surprisingly fresh and funny turn as the only friend of Betty-Anne who, despite never having met Kenny, is ready and willing to pitch in on an almost 20-year campaign to free him. Even more surprising is Juliette Lewis as the key witness in Kenny’s trial. Though she comes across as a drunk pantomime villain, she soon reveals a vulnerable, guilt-ridden side that will remind viewers that she’s still got that special something.
Conviction is emotional and full of great performances, but is still guilty of resembling a predictable made-for-TV movie with a tedious script and lazy direction.
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis
Release date: January 14