By Gary Murray
Starring Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Sam Rockwell, Peter Gallagher and Juliette Lewis
Written by Pamela Gray
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
MPAA Rating R
Running time 107 min
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Hilary Swank is easily the most important actress of her generation. The two-time Oscar winner has given audiences characters that resonate on a very personal level, with a "commoner" theme, ordinary people who do extra-ordinary things. Her latest is in the high drama Conviction.
The movie starts with a murder in a trailer in Ayers, Massachusetts. The locals lock up petty criminal Kenny (Sam Rockwell) for the crime. His sister, Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) totally believes in his innocence. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how close the bonds between the two are with them supporting each other through the roughness that is childhood. A couple of years after his original suspicion, Kenny is re-arrested for the crime, with two witnesses admitting that Kenny bragged about killing the woman. Also, the blood type matches Kenny. He is convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Betty, a woman who has not graduated from high school, comes up with a plan. She is going to get her GED, then her undergraduate degree finally making it to law school. After passing the bar, she will be Kenny's attorney and work to get him free.
In law school she befriends Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), a fellow 'long in the tooth' student who doesn't take no for an answer. While she is in school, Betty reads about this new technique of testing blood called DNA and contacts Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) and his law firm for help,
Conviction is about the difficulty of finding all the twelve year old evidence and the struggle for new techniques to be introduced into courts. It is also a search for all the witnesses and the truth behind their testimony. As the plot drives forward, Kenny becomes more despondent about being in prison.
Hillary Swank just hits it out of the park with her reading of Betty Anne, a woman who sacrifices years of her life for the love of her sibling. She believes against all odds that she can prove her brother's innocence. It is real and touching.
Minnie Driver shows a comedic side in her reading of Abra Rice. Where Betty Anne is our serious actress giving emotive conviction, Minnie gives a much needed human element to the entire proceedings. She believes in Kenny being innocent because she believes in Betty.
Even though she has a few scenes, Juliette Lewis just nails her small role of Roseanna Perry, one of the women who accused Kenny of the crimes. On first seeing her, she is a flake but one soon realizes that she has a sharp mind and know what admitting to perjury would do to her life. Juliette lets the make-up people age her to a frightening degree.
Sam Rockwell has the hardest part with Kenny and shows some serious acting chops in the role. We care for this convict, even though there are hints that things in his life may not be as cut and dry and Betty Anne thinks they are. The doubts fuel the prowess of the performance.
Director Tony Goodwyn does the smart thing by not trying to make the camera do all the swoops and twirls. By keeping it simple he gets more from his characters. We get a real sense of time and place, with camera work being used to a modest degree.
The word 'conviction' has two distinct meanings. First is being proven guilty and the second is the act of being persuaded. The movie Conviction is about both. Though it comes across a bit heavy handed at times, it does show that a true and just course is worth fighting for. This is another Oscar contender and will probably make some critics 'Best of the Year' list. I didn't like it as much as some other critics but it has some importance.