Conviction movie review
Conviction is the story of a single mom of lower-class means fighting to get her falsely accused brother out of prison by rising up, going to school, getting a Bachelors and Masters degree, and finally passing her Bar exam. [obvious spoiler alert!] In the end, Betty-Ann Waters saves the day, and sets her brother free after nearly 20 years in prison by working through a system designed against them. Hooray!
What? It's not much of a spoiler. Like Erin Brockovich, the ending isn't the focus of the film. Yeah, it's important and makes everyone feel good, but the journey to the end is the important focus of the story. Every struggle and hardship is designed to get the viewer to root for Betty-Ann and Kenny, and Conviction does this just fine. It's not a perfect film, and not for everyone, but it does its job just fine.
Kenny Waters is accused of a murder in their small town, convicted, and spends the next twenty years in prison. His sister, with whom he has a very strong familial bond, spends her time working to get him out. With the advent of DNA testing, they are able to prove he wasn't the the murderer, and for the whole of the film they work for his innocence.
While the plot is a little on the touchy-feely (and obviously timed to appeal to the awards season), it is delightfully acted and performed. While Sam Rockwell is fine at the exuberant Kenny Waters, the real props should go to Hilary Swank. Her version of Betty-Ann is delicate and touching, and while I would never go so far as to call Swank a high class beauty, the make-up team deserve props for keeping her looking like a real woman of lower means. Minnie Driver is fantastic as her sassy friend Abra Rice, who comes in and provides the backbone for Betty-Ann to keep fighting to free her brother.
What I find fascinating is how Conviction is really the story about women. Betty-Ann and Abra are the heroines, while the obviously false accusations made by Kenny's ex-girlfriends (including the impeccably trashy Juliette Lewis), and the vindictive police officer, Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo), are Kenny's ultimate opponent. Other than Kenny, men play a very peripheral role, with Officer Taylor acting as the antagonistic, masculine role. It's a situation that I wish was expanded upon, but being based on a true story means very little can be changed.
Director Tony Goldwyn didn't so much change the real life story of Betty-Ann and Kenny as he just ignored some elements. For example, you'll never hear how Kenny died six months after his release in a freak fall, or how Nancy Taylor wasn't a full-on police officer, but more like a secretary. Hell, apparently the admission of perjury from Kenny's ex-girlfriend was performed just after Kenny's incarceration, yet the director decided to delay this scene until near the end. These discrepancies don't ruin the film, but they do make the film much more tense.
Arguably, Conviction is really a glorified Lifetime movie designed to appeal to the sappy masses and the Academy. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the film tells a feel-good story, building on the reality of an imperfect legal system. When Betty-Ann makes a new discovery, or when they fight successfully against the odds, we the audience can do nothing but cheer on their success. Sometimes that is all a movie needs to do; create a version of reality, and spread the joy of fighting for what is right. Conviction does this just fine.