Posted by: greercn | January 17, 2011

Conviction

Dramatic legal thrillers about miscarriages of justice – I feel your boredom at the mention of this overworked genre – do very little for me. The last one I liked was “Erin Brockovich” and the main appeal of that was watching an anti-fashion show, with trashy but vaguely compelling bras on show. I can take or leave Julia Roberts and usually choose the “leave” option.

The appeal of “Conviction” was that Sam Rockwell is in it and he’s terrific. He brings charm and subtle nuances to his acting and his eyebrows do more work than the whole cast in some movies. I’m a completist and have seen everything he is in, since he played a significant bit role in “NYPD Blue”.

Desire to see him in this outweighed my neutral feelings (at best) about Hilary Swank. Her gulping and the bulging vein in the forehead thing – along with the constant mascara streaks – really put me off. “Million Dollar Baby” failed to win me over and that has my beloved hero Clint Eastwood behind it.  

So, Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell star? I am conflicted. Yet, I am so glad I saw it. It’s a terrific and taut 107 minutes of cinema magic and the whole ensemble shines. What a great story too, for a change!

Kenny Waters (Rockwell) goes to prison for a murder that only his sister Betty Anne (Swank) believes him to be innocent of committing. Flashback scenes are used to great effect and we see the difficult childhood that led to the close bond of the siblings.

Betty Anne qualifies as a lawyer and a lot of years pass. It’s an American tearjerker, so you can guess the ending. How you get there pays considerable attention to fractured families, loyalty, class and a whole lot of  interesting sub-plots about small towns, the police, prison and the law. There is more depth here than in most films.

Karen Young shines as the mom who failed, big time. Minnie Driver finally gets a role she can sink her lovely teeth into, as the best friend of Betty Anne, the outlandishly named Abra Rice. (What was her sister called? Cadabra?)

Juliette Lewis, Ari Graynor and a cast full of great women work amazingly well together. There is probably more here for girls than for boys, although the men in the Stratford Picturehouse seemed to like it.

Peter Gallagher is gorgeous and terrific as Barry Scheck, the real life lawyer who uses DNA results to right legal wrongs from the past.

Bailee Madison and Tobias Campbell are terrific as the young Betty Anne and Kenny, enhancing the story of the grown ups. 

Tony Goldwyn directs crisply and with style and  Pamela Gray’s script oozes intelligence. I have one quibble.

Why must we always have a photo of the real life people shown at the end of a story that is “based on real events”? Yes, Betty Anne’s smile could light up a city but Kenny is not Sam Rockwell. I think this shoving us back into reality limits the movie. It was done in “127 Hours”, too and it is just as silly there.

We are aware that sitting still in a library is not studying, but that’s what movies do to show studying. We know that turning pages and looking tired is not hard work, but we recognise the code. I go to movies for the experience, alternative views and entertainment. If I want to see the real people, surely I could just use Google like everyone else does?

Ah well. It’s a fashion and will pass. This is a lovely tale of loyalty and sticking with your gut against the odds. There are too few of those around. See it while you can.

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