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'Conviction': Compelling story, fantastic performances

By cdahlen · October 24, 2010

Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell in Conviction

As much as I wasn't in the mood for ANOTHER Hilary Swank drama, I went to see Conviction this past weekend...and I'm so glad I did!

Conviction tells the true story of Massachusetts siblings Betty Anne and Kenny Waters (Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell). The narrative jumps around in time to connect the Waters' childhood traumas (being placed into separate foster homes, facing their unstable mother) to challenges in their adult lives. While Betty Anne manages to find some stability by marrying young and having a family, Kenny constantly faces consequences for his violent temper and reckless behavior. Despite their nearly opposite temperaments, Betty Anne and Kenny remain close into their adulthood

When an older neighbor woman is found brutally murdered in her home, Kenny is convicted of committing the crime, and faces life in prison without parole. Betty Anne, convinced of her brother's innocence, goes back to school and eventually earns a law degree in order to appeal her brother's sentence. Though Waters sacrifices her marriage and time with her children, she never wavers from her goal, and eventually frees Kenny from nearly two decades of unwarrented incarceration.

Though the narrative was a bit disjointed, (too many back-and-forth jumps in time, too little establishment of the adult characters), Conviction features great performances. Sam Rockwell, one of the best actors around, is a standout in this role. He brings great depth and compassion to his flawed character. Rockwell's shining (Oscar-worthy?) moment happens near the end of the film, when the newly freed Kenny reunites with an estranged family member. The actor expresses great emotion via only slight facial expressions and subtle shifts in voice. It's one of the most powerful, emotional moments in the film.

Others who fall into the "great performances" category include Juliette Lewis and Melissa Leo. If played by any other actors, Lewis and Leo's small roles may have been campy and one-dimensional. However, these ladies owned their less-than-glamorous characters, and stole the show each time they appeared onscreen.

Swank was good too, but when isn't she? At this point, she could play "dramatic heroine" in her sleep.

Though Conviction might not be the best film of 2010, it might be the most compelling. Be forewarned: Tears will flow, so bring tissues!

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