Beginning in 1980 with the bloody murder of Katharina Brow, Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) and her pursuit of a law degree in an effort to free her brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), of a wrongful murder conviction. Directed by Tony Goldwyn (The Last Kiss), Conviction is a rather simple film, but the emotional impact of the story comes through in the end after what is a rather mundane and cliched story of the innocent man in jail and the person working hard on the outside to get them out. At no point does this seem like new territory, but outside of being about ten minutes too long it’s a decent film despite its rather traditional dramatic nature.
As Betty Anne, Swank is once again taking on a role of an under-priviledged character, this time an Ayer, Massachusetts waitress that must first get her GED before even getting into college and ultimately going on to her law degree. Time, in fact, is the major player in the story as Betty’s path to freeing her brother takes 18 years, an amount of time anyone else would have likely found reason to give up.
Swank falls right into the role and opposite her, Rockwell, as her criminally inclined brother, is just as noteworthy if not more so. Rockwell plays Kenny with enough eccentricity to make it believable, but never so much that it feels like a caricature trying to be larger than the scene. In that sense, both these roles seem tailor made for these two actors, playing to Swank’s strength as an embattled character digging herself out of the trenches and Rockwell’s ability to play a character dealt an unfortunate hand.
Also joining the cast, and returning to the screen in a film of any considerable importance for the first time in a long while, is Minnie Driver, playing Betty’s fellow law student Abra Rice. Referring to themselves as the “two old ladies in class,” Abra and Betty form a friendship that ultimately results in Abra helping Betty with her work on Kenny’s case. Along with a smaller performance from Peter Gallagher, Driver adds a bit of color to the equally melancholy and uplifting story of relentless devotion and the will to never give up on those you love.
The cast doesn’t end there with stand-up supporting performances turned in by Mellissa Leo, Juliette Lewis and Clea DuVall. Reading the names and knowing the setting and subject matter, the casting is pretty much a no brainer, but it proves to be vital in telling this story with any measure of legitimacy.
I can’t say Conviction feels like one of those movies that will storm the box-office or find some kind of massive audience support. It is a steadily consistent movie that could have used a snip here and there, but by the end does right by its story.