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Would you sacrifice 18 yrs of your life to defend your wrongfully accused sibling in a court of law?
Another Cliche Movie about the wrongly accused person
To call this film vastly over rated would be an understatement, to say the least. I know from watching the trailer, and the hype about how this devoted woman gave up her life to reinvent herself to become a lawyer, to prove her brother's innocence, is a rather touching story. However, if there's one thing that watching a lot of movies has ever taught me, it's that some films often thrive off the emotional factor of their stories to hide a notoriously bad cliche ridden script. Does it work? In the case of this film, it doesn't. No pun intended by that last statement. Now before anyone starts criticizing me on how could I say that this film is over hyped when it's based on a real life story...blah, blah, blah, and whatever. Please, hear me out on what I'm about to say.
Besides, if you're going to go by the logic that this film is automatically good because it's based on a real life story, then you might as well say Dwayne Johnson's "Gridiron Gang" and "Walking Tall" are great movies too. After all, they were also based on true events. Although in the case of "Walking Tall", it was inspired by true events to be exact. Anyway, you get my point. Not that I'm calling those films great movies, as I personally consider almost all of Dwayne Johnson's movies garbage. Ironic considering I actually do think he's a fairly decent actor, but he gets typed cast in notoriously bad films all the time. However, that's a different story to discuss at another time, as I do believe I was here to discuss "Conviction."
For those of you who hasn't heard the story behind this film, it's essentially about a high school dropout and mother, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), who goes out of her way to put herself through law school, in order to prove her brother's innocence. Her brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), is wrongly accused of murder, in the first degree, of an elderly woman. He says he's innocent, but nobody believes him except for his sister, Betty. Hell, not even Kenny's dear old wife believes him...allegedly, as the whole town practically wants to see him in jail. Especially, that no good side winding policewoman, Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo), who really seems to have it in for Kenny. Sheesh, obsessed much?
Anyways, Betty Anne pretty much sets her life on hold in effort to get her GED, put herself in college, then make it through law school. Basically, sacrificing about eighteen years of her life, so she can legally represent Kenny. Of course, this does come at the cost of her marriage. As she devotes so much time to her pursuit of justice, it causes her to neglect her immediate family. Cutting off all social interactions, as she claims her life is too busy for friends in her pursuit to reinvent herself. That is until Abra Rice (Minnie Driver) forces her to become friends with her because they're the only two people in the class that are middle aged. Of course, Abra does end up helping Betty Anne in her quest to free her brother, for no other reason than they're friends. How nice and quaint.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good emotional story as much as the next guy, but there was a lot of flaws that kept me from liking this film. First of all, I can understand this story was told through Betty's point of view, and how it was more of a story of how she reinvents herself to save her brother. I, personally, would have liked to have seen some of this movie played out through Kenny's eyes as well. Seriously, the guy acts like an arrogant pompous buffoon around the beginning, when he moons everyone at a party for kicks. Yet, we're only given brief flashbacks and the few brief moments of interactions with his character, when Betty visits him in prison, to gain any kind of connection to him. Of course, it's a good thing they cast Sam Rockwell as Kenny, as I can imagine a lesser actor would have struggled with this role with the little screen time the character was given.
Then there's the issue of Betty Anne neglecting her immediate family, and losing her husband because of Kenny's case. Why was this untouched by the film? I know it's supposed to be an inspirational story, but I'm sure some screen time could have been given to elaborate on the conflicted emotions Betty Anne must have felt during this time period. Seriously, you can't expect a sane person to believe that her divorce and her kids leaving her had no effect on her psyche, when she was still trying to go through law school. That's just crazy. I know she loves her brother, but I'm damn near sure she loved her kids and husband too. Therefore, it's a shame that the film never explores this area of Betty's life more thoroughly, as it was part of her journey to becoming a lawyer.
However, I wouldn't go as far as to say "Conviction" is a bad movie by any means...but it's pretty damn close. Granted, I know there's a lot of films out there that often use the emotional factor to disguise notoriously bad plots, but many of those same films have many memorable scenes that allow audiences to suspend their disbelief in the name of cinematic fun. Such films that do this are movies like the original "Karate Kid", "Braveheart", "Rocky", "A Few Good Men" and "My Cousin Vinny", to name a few. Don't get me wrong, each of these films mentioned are great movies, in their own right. But lets face it, their plots aren't the best in the world, as a lot of them are highly predictable and cliched. However, since each of these films contained a lot of great acting performances and memorable scenes, the audience was unable to help but enjoy them anyway. What does all this have to do with "Conviction?" A lot, actually.
In order for a movie to work with a highly emotional driven story, it needs two things. One, it needs great acting on all cylinders; particularly from your lead actor/actress. Each actor has to compliment the other, and neither can upstage the other. Another thing that's necessary to carry an emotional drive of any story are memorable scenes...something that "Conviction" sorely lacks. Sure, Sam Rockwell did his best to create many memorable scenes with his performance, as he was one of the shining lights about this film. Sadly, his performance was overshadowed by a mediocre script and limited screen time. Again, another reason why I felt part of this story should have been told through Kenny's point of view, as well. If that wasn't bad enough, Hilary Swank was just awful in this role.
Sure, the trailers make it out like this could be her best performance ever, but you'll be very surprised on how wrong you'd be to assume that. If anything, I'd probably say she was about average in this movie. Not completely awful, but not great either. Heck, throughout most of the movie, unless she's confronting Kenny, she comes off too passive in many scenes, and out of place. Granted, I know she was limited to portraying the real life Betty Anne Waters accurately, so that might be why she was so passive, as the real life Betty may have been the same way. However, it just makes her unconvincing as a lawyer, and it definitely doesn't help that many of her costars out shine her in this movie.
Overall, I'd have to give this movie a two out of four. It's a fairly decent movie at it's best. Sam Rockwell alone is enough to see this, as he literally stole the show from Hilary Swank; in spite of limited screen time. Outside of that, I think many of you out there would be better off waiting for this one to come out on DVD or DVR instead, as I wouldn't pay full admission price to see this in a theater.