Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Thomas D. Mahard, Owen Campbell, Minnie Driver, Connor Donovan

Director: Tony Goldwyn

Writer: Pamela Gray

Cinematography: Adriano Goldman

Original Score: Paul Cantelon

Running Time: 107 mins.

In Conviction the premise is at once a stunning story of injustice following the imprisonment of Kenny Waters, convicted of brutally murdering a neighbour and his sister’s, Betty-Anne, crusade to have him freed after she is convinced of his innocence, putting herself through law school and finally sitting the Bar exam to then uncover the cracks in a seemingly flawed case. On the flip side one could very well see Conviction as pure TV-movie-of-the-week plotting, a real tear-jerker wrung for all its hammy worth…which begs the question, where do director Tony Goldwyn (The Last Kiss) and writer Adriano Goldman find their efforts falling?

Thankfully I can safely say there is much more of the former with the latter only ever creeping in when Swank veers into over-acting at times, as fine an actress as she is this is one woman who doesn’t quite know when to rein it in, crossing the line between convincing and melodramatic though arguably the script has as much blame on this front as she. But to the good, and there is much to enjoy including another convincing turn from Swank (aside from the previously mentioned blips) as a strong-willed woman with trailer trash roots (think Million Dollar Baby, albeit marginally less depressing!), however it is Sam Rockwell as Kenny who really strikes a chord.

Rockwell is a great actor, one of the best of the current crop, and deserves some real accolades, he has been making a big impression on me since The Green Mile where he made a despicably vile character into a charismatic one, though it is more recently in Moon (acting opposite himself) and Iron Man 2 where he stole the show from Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr (no mean feat) that he has really become a force to be reckoned with, and hopefully noticed, clearly this is a award-baiting film and if anyone should get a nod it is he. Presenting Kenny as a likeable yet rough around the edges “scoundrel” the years prison puts on him are felt in every scene, even in the clichéd prison scenes that are apparently a must in this type of film, the fights, the lost temper, the despair leading to suicide…each beat is hit upon but is done so convincingly.

The plot itself, though a well-worn one in some respects, is structured very well and resists juggling too many side plots (as the similar the Next Three Days fell down in doing), those that do exist are connected integrally to the stories main thrust, the love between siblings (oddly an under-used narrative drive) is simply put a moving one thanks to the leads with a touch of humour going a long way to adding warmth to a potentially clinical a-to-b story. Flash-backs to happier time of childhood and their younger  years are interwoven very well and add an extra dimension to build on the relationship, even if familiar notes are hit in the useless-mother role and the trailer trash girlfriends. Though as a deeply trashy woman Juliette Lewis is better than she has been in quite some time in only two brief scenes, immersed into a role that is quite frankly detestable.

The lingering possibility that Kenny could be guilty helps keep the tension bubbling along even if the outcome is never really in doubt, and a late in the day introduction of Kenny’s daughter may seem a little heavy handed, though it does add another sounding board for Rockwell to bounce off, something which can only be a good thing in anyone’s book, here’s hoping he gets that star-making turn soon…

VERDICT

Conviction is solid entertainment on the story side of things getting so much more to its premise than is to be expected, though it is in the relationship between brother and sister rather than in the legal side of things that the film edges into “great” rather than merely  “good” territory, thank you Mr. Rockwell!

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