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Conviction Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 10 January 2011 10:35
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Cast: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver
Certificate: 12A

Whenever someone lands on Go To Jail, you can always count on a relative to do something crazy like grab a gun and shoot up a courthouse. But the most dramatic way to bust your brother from behind bars? Devote decades to studying for a law degree and then becoming his defence attorney. It's all completely true - Conviction's story is based on real life. Which naturally makes it feel even more false.

Betty Anne Waters (Swank) loves her brother Kenny (Rockwell). In and out of the local police station, he's a wrong 'un, always causing trouble or dancing in bars while taking his clothes off. When he gets locked up for first degree murder, Betty refuses to believe it. So strong is her conviction (ahem) that she throws away her marriage, ignores her children, and signs up for a law course.

Money doesn't seem to be much of a concern for Betty. She has a job in a local pub but spends less time there than a dead Jack Duckworth. Instead, she wastes her afternoons chasing an elusive box of evidence or emoting furiously for the camera. And Swank does it quite well, nailing the Massachusetts accent and determined loyalty of the devoted sister. As her supportive friend Abra, Minnie Driver gives an equally sparky performance, and Peter Gallagher's eyebrows make an appearance and do what they do best.

But the film properly comes to life when Sam Rockwell's on screen. An unpredictable presence, who suddenly flares up into anger, Rockwell's jailbird is a tragic figure. Forging a believable bond with his sister, Rockwell and Swank bring a sincere gravitas to their scenes in the visiting room.

Outside the prison walls, though, Tony Goldwyn's movie is a lamer beast. Playing out to plinky bits of piano, it's a softly shot movie with a slushy script; the emotional flashbacks send the movie slightly off-kilter. It's hard to have a film like this without some heart-on-sleeves stuff, but you can't upset the balance between verité and vomit. It's saved by the strong couple at its core, but Goldwyn's movie is often guilty of that.


Conviction is an incredible story turned into a slightly cloying movie. Like real life, it's not perfect but Sam Rockwell makes it all better.


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