Movie Review: ‘Conviction’

January 16, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Hilary Swank in 'Conviction'.  (20th Century Fox)
Hilary Swank in 'Conviction'. (20th Century Fox)
It’s starting to feel like winter is the new summer, what with all the superb films being released in order to qualify for Oscar and Bafta glory. During this release window, would-be TV movie of the week courtroom dramas like Conviction are elevated above their station thanks to some powerful award worthy performances, and the hook of a “lump in the throat” against-all-odds plot.

When local troublemaker Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal murder, his sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) makes it her mission to become a practicing lawyer in order to prove his questionable innocence.

Conviction is a film that is unquestionably about the performances rather than the “based on a true story” plot. Indeed it is sometimes let down by its desire to appeal for awards with its over earnest acting and teary eyed, tinkly piano accompanied dialogue, rather than concentrating on being a movie about an appeal.

Two-time academy award winner Swank is as expected; vulnerability blossoming into stubborn determinedness that she could do in her sleep. It’s the return of Minnie Driver, seemingly absent from quality fare since Good Will Hunting, and Juliette Lewis as the testifying tramp, that add to the impressive and all-too-rare female dominated ensemble cast.

Rockwell also shines in the key role, with a turn of unhinged edginess that sows the requisite seeds of doubt that the narrative requires to maintain your interest.

Where director Tony Goldwyn struggles is in the construction of the picture. It’s beautifully directed in a graceful, Clint Eastwood-esque fashion, but the multiple timelines skip around schizophrenically and progress so fast that it’s to the detriment of your investment in any of the characters. It also removes any sense of momentum from the trial.

Comparisons with Erin Brokovich are both unavoidable and unfavourable. This doesn’t have the USP or style of Soderbergh’s Oscar winner, but as a solid drama with beyond the call of duty performances it’s guilty as charged.