Saturday, March 12, 2011

Conviction: Grade B

Conviction (2010)

Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Juliet Lewis; Director Tony Goldwyn.

Rockwell plays an impulsive, perhaps psychopathic, ne’er-do-well, working class guy in rural Massachusetts. When a woman is found stabbed to death, the police pick him up because he has a record and is one of the “usual suspects.” But when his wife and a girlfriend both testify that he confessed that he did it, he unexpectedly goes to prison for life.

His sister (Swank) is desperate, convinced that he is innocent, but she has no resources to help him. All appeals are lost. So she goes to law school, struggles, alienates her husband, and eventually becomes a lawyer, along with her buddy, Minnie Driver, who is an eyeball magnet. As a lawyer, she discovers that DNA evidence could exonerate her brother (this is set in the 1980’s-early 1990’s when DNA evidence was just coming into use in the law). A long, drawn-out scramble follows while she tries to locate the 15 year old bloodstain evidence from the case, but eventually her brother is freed.

At 2.5 hours, this movie needed some serious editing. As with most fictionalizations of a true story, the filmmakers cannot decide if they are doing a documentary or a piece of fiction, so they do both, to the detriment of both. There are tons of irrelevant and saggy scenes that needed to go.

It is an inspirational story of one woman’s tenacity fighting an uncaring, flawed, legal system. The acting is very good, but I confess that I am not a huge fan of Swank. She is good, yes, but she just does not have the emotional range of, say, Juliet Lewis or Minnie Driver. She is either “on” or “off.” Those seem to be her only two emotions. But that is not to say she is bad – she is a good actor, just noticeably limited, and I did not get involved in her character. Juliet Lewis, now, there is a fabulous actor. In her two brief scenes, she is just electrifying. Sam Rockwell is convincing and consistent, and conveys the emotions extremely well. So despite the bloated and overly sentimentalized nature of this picture (don’t get me started on the sappy piano music –barf!), the strong acting makes it a worthwhile see.

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