How about you give your big brother a kiss?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/22/2010
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Cast: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Melissa Leo, Clea DuVall, Juliette Lewis


Visitors day at prison is always a hoot.

According to the text thrown up at the end of “Conviction”, there have been 254 guilty verdicts overturned due to DNA testing not available when the original trial took place. In the film, the question is whether or not Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell) is guilty of brutally murdering a woman.

Based on a true story, Waters’ sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) devotes her life to exonerating the brother she believes to be innocent. She goes so far as to ruin her marriage and neglect her sons while becoming a lawyer, assuming that learning about the law will ensure her success.

You may remember that I mentioned ‘DNA’ in the first sentence of this review. Well, the film takes half its time to reach the same conclusion and then takes many legal steps before we reach the final conclusion. I understand that it would take time for the real Betty Anne to do so, as DNA testing was a new legal tool at the time; however, director Tony Goldwyn wastes time getting the audience to this point, adding in way too much background in hopes that all that time spend will invest the audience in the characters.

As the film is slowly chugging along, Goldwyn also uses an inappropriately high number of cheats in order to maximize the acting performances of Swank and Rockwell. Even after a very short amount of time, I was wondering how much closer I’d be to retirement if I had a nickel for every close-up. Additionally, Swank’s Massachusetts accent seemed to come and go; at its thickest, you’d think she had marbles in her mouth and I’d rather she just mimic her vocal performance from “The Next Karate Kid” – which was set in Boston. You could feel her trying so hard to be authentic and that became distracting at times (while I don’t know the reasons for the casting change, Naomi Watts was originally going to play the role, which I probably would have preferred).

Rockwell does a decent enough job, especially at shading the character in mystery – allowing the film to avoid telling the audience whether or not he actually committed the crime. If you plan on seeing this, I would suggest not researching the actual facts to give yourself the same ability to enjoy both sides of the argument; Seeing Betty Anne struggle so hard to prove her brother’s innocence, in the face of so many others telling her to move on, is the best part of the film.

I’m not sure what happened in the make-up trailer though, as the film spans almost two decades. Rockwell gets a heavy dose of aging applied to his face while Swank looks practically the same age, with maybe a few wrinkle lines drawn in (or covered up for the “younger” version). This is fine for the beginning of the film but by the end, it is very noticeable. But then again, maybe they figured it would help her Oscar hopes.

“Conviction” fails to give itself any real identity, something unique that makes watching this different from any other film about fighting the legal system and is something I’d expect to see on Lifetime more than inside a movie theater. A 2 out of 5, this feels merely like something built entirely for awards consideration and not to tell the story as honestly and efficiently as possible. It’s yet another true story best served via a documentary rather than a dramatization.

2 out of 5