Based on the true story of a working mother who became a lawyer to free her wrongfully imprisoned brother, Conviction plays upon the heartstrings with both its astonishing story and the exceptional performances from Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. Yet while the acting may be sublime, the characters themselves develop with different authenticity during their current adulthood and the flashbacks to their youth. The inseparable sibling bond clearly seen in the latter doesn’t translate to the former and this disruption in connection will likely confuse audiences as much as the ambiguity in the brother’s innocence. Still, as an inspirational drama, its methods are effective at wrenching emotion from the audience and as the story unfolds the rousing underdog plight steps to the forefront to mask any missteps in presentation until after the triumphant finale.
When Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, his devoted sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) refuses to give up hope. Sacrificing everything to pursue his freedom, she enrolls in Roger Williams University and eventually earns a law degree to become Kenny’s lawyer. With the aid of her best friend Abra (Minnie Driver) and renowned attorney Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) of the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully accused, Betty Anne begins an exhaustive fight to prove Kenny’s innocence.
Conviction has the right idea – by adapting a powerful true story and using superb, A-list actors, it will be difficult for audiences to avoid becoming involved and moved. Many moments are tinged with emotion, heartbreak and stirring injustice, complimented by soft piano music and teary eyes, emphasized by flashbacks within flashbacks and an intricate timeline, bouncing between the present, childhood, the crime scene, the original arrest, the re-arrest and the courtroom. It’s all incredibly effective, even if the plot unfolds like a two-hour episode of Law and Order.
Through the use of particularly unusual circumstances, Conviction plays out its double entendre title, brilliantly bringing to life a situation involving DNA testing exoneration and the incredibly complex details of perjury, questionable authorities, and officials reluctant to admit error. When it’s not merely visualizing facts of the case, it focuses on perseverance, sibling bonds, choosing duty over family and hopelessness. Conviction never becomes a courtroom drama, instead steering toward unleashing emotions through legal barriers. “I’m sorry you’ve wasted your life on this,” coldly remarks Nancy Taylor, stating a thought many might feel about Betty Anne, who believes she’s losing her family to an unending devotion toward the cause. It’s also odd that Kenny isn’t made to appear completely innocent – the evidence against him is certainly convincing, and he never bothers to reiterate his guiltlessness to his sister or the audience. Fortunately, Rockwell displays an impressive transformation as Kenny and Swank is outstanding in a role that will likely garner Academy Award attention.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)