Of the two recent films with stories revolving around the justice system, Conviction manages to do what Stone is unable to by creating a compelling film that draws the audience into the lives of the characters, played by actors that are able to shine in their roles.
Conviction tells the story of the relationship between a brother and sister who are willing to do anything for each other. Based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her brother Kenny, Conviction follows Betty Anne through her struggles to become a lawyer in order to prove her brother’s innocence when he is imprisoned for the murder of a woman in their small town.
Though this is not true for all people, there may be a select group of people (*cough* me *cough*) who lose focus during films blending biopics and law. Let’s face it, real people aren’t always the most exciting, and throwing law on top of that is like putting boring icing on a boring cake. Interest may wane slightly for those of us who feel this way, but Conviction still manages to hold onto those with dipping interest levels thanks to how the film presents the story. As Betty Anne continues through her schooling and her brother goes in and out of depression and hope while stuck in prison flashbacks of their time together as trouble making children from a less that desirable home are cut in. By doing so, the question of why she is willing to put her life on hold for her brother never needs an answer because it is just understandable that these two would be willing to do anything for the other.
In addition to the heart-tugging bond formed by the child actors (Bailee Madison and Tobias Campbell) in these flashbacks, the main draw to the film is the continuation of this by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. Adding this to the list of true-to-life people that Swank has already brought to film, she does yet another amazing job as Betty Anne Waters. Her unwillingness to see defeat and one track mind to accomplish this goal does get agitating when it starts to cost her the things in her life that don’t revolve around her brother, yet Swank still manages to make her a very sympathetic person. And then we are reminded during her scenes with Rockwell why she is willing to fight so hard for it all, even when she has to put all else on hold.
It is fair enough to say that there are plenty of Debby Downer moments when all seems to work against Betty Anne and Kenny, so thank goodness that Kenny is able to hold on to his high spirits and humor through it all. In addition to Minnie Driver’s humorous performance as Betty Anne’s best friend, Rockwell provides more comedy than expected from a man in his position, bringing yet another level of humanity to this, again I say, story that could have easily teetered into the realm of sleep inducing cinema.
Even though the main body of the film follows the years in which Betty Anne has to struggle through school in order to become skilled enough to be her brother’s lawyer decades later, it does not get bogged down in the technicalities of what she must do. It is not about the what so much as the why, and with the acting and structure of the film it is not hard to fathom how she was able to do it all without an ounce of conviction lost.
Final Grade: B