Friday, October 15, 2010

Movie with Abe: Conviction

Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Released October 15, 2010

Hilary Swank is one actress who is always up for immersing herself fully in a role, and that effort has netted her two Best Actress Oscars. Her most recent character, Amelia Earhart, bombed, and therefore Swank has suited up with a new finessed accent and transplanted herself to Boston to play Betty Anne Waters. In many ways, it’s a film-defining performance, since it’s Betty Anne’s drive that fuels her life and the lives of those around her. She doesn’t even think twice after devoting (or giving up, as her children suggest) her life to go to law school to fight to get her brother out of prison for a crime she knows he didn’t commit.

“Conviction” works better in concept than it does in execution. As a premise, Betty Anne’s resolve, and real-life struggle, to get her brother exonerated, is highly inspiring, and much effort is made to ensure that her dedication comes off in a saintly way. It’s not that Betty Anne’s intentions aren’t evidently notable, but rather that the film tries so desperately hard to make sure that comes across. As a result, the film is corny at times and overly dramatized at others, if not both at the same time.

Swank’s highly-prepared performance is indicative of the tone of the film, determined to overcome the odds even if there’s not one person standing by her side. It might be easier to get behind her energetic quest to vindicate her brother if both she and the film weren’t continually emphasizing her extreme efforts and trying to legitimize them at every turn. This is not a film lacking for Boston accents, as most of the actors clearly spent a great deal of time perfecting their dialects. The film’s comic relief is the long-absent Minnie Driver, who mysteriously offers her undying allegiance to Betty Anne despite receiving nothing (such as an occasionally thank you) in return, a fact the film never explains. The standout performer in the film is Sam Rockwell, who starts out as a cocky troublemaker and gradually becomes a pessimistic hardened criminal with absolutely no hope for the future. While Rockwell wouldn’t seem to be a good fit as a tough guy, his transformation is the most believable part of the film.

Betty Anne’s journey through law school to help out her brother was a lengthy one, yet this film picks select moments with gaps of years in between them to highlight what are likely the more interesting and meaningful moments of the experience. The smattering of scenes doesn’t feel cohesive, and there’s still a sense of wanting to know more about certain events and motivations. Even if all of the blanks weren’t able to be filled in when it comes to the true story, the film still feels incomplete and unfulfilling.


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