Tony Goldwyn was an actor for many years, before turning his focus to directing. Starting with a couple of theater rom-coms, he turned to television where his work matured and focused, to the point where the camera-work disappeared and the story-teller emerged. Conviction benefits from that hard-scrabble television work, where director moves out of the way and good decisions in casting and performance shine through.
The story is "basically" true—as true as Hollywood, given time-constraints and story-focus will allow: local roustabout Ken Waters (Sam Rockwell) is arrested for the brutal murder of a woman in Ayers, Massachusettes, and his devoted sister Betty Ann (Hilary Swank), convinced of his innocence but determined to free him any way she can, works her way through law school to accomplish the task. That struggle compromises her life, her family—her dedication turns her, ironically, into the sort of part-time mother she swore she'd never be—and her resolve. But, with the new circumstance of DNA testing, she finds a flaw in the prosecution's case and pursues original evidence for examination and the back-story of the officer (Melissa Leo), determined to send her brother to prison. All very "Lifetime," except for its depiction of a hard-scrabble existence.
But, its the performances that grab your attention. Lately, I've been smirking at movie-trailers emphasizing the presence of "Academy Award Winner..." and "Academy Award Nominee..." (and Conviction's are particularly guilty of this), but this one benefits from a carefully considered cast emphasizing talent over glamor. Any movie with Rockwell in it is worth seeing, and Swank is always willing to dirty her fingernails for a role, but it is terrific to see smaller roles with great performances, for instance Leo's unflinching portrayal, and Minnie Driver (she played "Jane" to Goldwyn's "Tarzan" in the "Disney version"), as a key collaborator. Driver's been in the background for movie roles for a bit, so it's heartening to remind oneself of what a particularly gifted actress she is, full of interesting choices that take you aback. But, the standout performance is Juliette Lewis, in a small role as a former girlfriend of the brother's, whose testimony damns hims. I've never been a fan of Lewis', her early teen work seeming distraught and hectoring. But, this work, and her recent adult work, is disciplined, unsentimental, and tough. Here, she's just a gnat's eyelash for Brando-ish grand-standing, but the choices are so clever and..."out-there," that one can't imagine anyone else being as good in the role (or would, frankly, want to), and makes one anticipate what work will be forthcoming from this singular actor. It is probably too much to ask to see her name on the list of nominees for Best Supporting Actress, in a film that's full of ones that should be recognized.
Conviction is a Matinee.
|The real Kenny Waters and the real Betty Ann, on the day of his release.|