Rated R for language and some violent images, 120 minutes
Uneven "Conviction" lacks heart, details
For a film called "Conviction," it lacks power and emotional resonance. Sure, the true story of a Massachusetts woman who spent years becoming a lawyer just so she could prove her convicted brother's innocence is inspiring. And while it's superbly acted, there are considerable problems with its sloppy narrative flow and lack of details that raises more questions at the film's end.
Betty Ann Waters (Hilary Swank) and her brother Kenneth (Sam Rockwell) were always a tight pair. They came from a troubled Massachusetts household and were shifted around to different foster homes growing up. Though they were separated, they formed a close bond even after both married. Kenny gets into some trouble and is wrongly convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Betty Ann goes to school and obtains her GED, her college degree and then law school to become a lawyer to get Kenny off. With the help of a colleague (Minnie Driver) and a well-known attorney (Peter Gallagher), they work to overcome insurmountable challenges to prove his innocence.
"Conviction" is a pallid, stale drama with a talented cast, uplifting story and vacuous, unmemorable execution. It's true, Waters' story on paper is inspiring. One woman sacrificing so much over a number of years just to prove her brother's innocence is indeed unique and will have you asking yourself if you'd do the same thing.
Oscar-winner Hilary Swank is affecting as Waters, proving again (for better or worse) that she's the go-to-girl for these true heartwarming strong women stories, as is character actor Rockwell ("IronMan 2") in a solid performance. But the direction from actor Tony Goldwyn ("Last House on the Left') and the script from Pamela Gray, who penned another true inspiring female story (the 1999 Meryl Streep vehicle "Music of the Heart") falters in giving Waters story some emotional heft.
To buy into this story, you need a few details, most of which the film glosses over to show Betty's journey. The details and the evidence are the case are downright vague, and the audience is left wondering what Kenny's involvement in the case was. Was he there? Was he an accomplice? Did he know the woman that was murdered? And we're told that a corrupt cop (Oscar-nominee Melissa Leo) has it out for Kenny, but why? What was her connection to Kenny? And exactly how does Betty survive over the years as a single mother, part-owner of a local pub and law school student?
These questions are never fully explored in the film as it jumps back and forth in time to tell the story. More unnecessary characters are introduced (Minnie Driver and particularly Juliette Lewis) and we're given Kenny and Betty's childhood backstory, when we needed more backstory to Kenny's case. If you know the real story, you know that Betty Ann was successful in getting her brother off and continues to help others. Waters is an admirable real-life person whose story, as told here, lacks grit or heart.