“Conviction” is based on a true story full of complex and extraordinary people – good, bad and somewhere in between – that any audience would be eager to get to know and try to understand, and a stellar cast brings them vividly to life in this absorbing tale of love, loyalty and sacrifice from director Tony Goldwyn and screenwriter Pamela Gray.
Actual facts and deeds provide fertile ground for Hilary Swank to grow another Oscar-worthy performance as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts working-class woman whose unconditional love for her wild, ever-in-trouble brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell, also in Oscar-level mode) moves her to fight an 18-year battle to prove against seemingly insurmountable odds that her sibling was sentenced to life in prison for a heinous murder he did not commit.
Swank does the underdog against the world better than almost any actor working today, with the Oscars from “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby” to prove it, and here she shines again as a small-town, unemployed high school dropout who dedicates her life to the exoneration and release of her brother. She risks her marriage, her relationship with her kids and her friendships in the process, as she accomplishes the incredible feat of obtaining a GED, a college degree and putting herself through law school to represent her beloved Kenny.
Her enemies are a badly flawed legal system, an unscrupulous local cop (an effectively mean-spirited and despicable Melissa Leo), and two of Kenny’s disgruntled exes, particularly the one played by Juliette Lewis, who in two brief scenes transforms herself into a loathsome, wine-swilling, hilariously grammar-challenged, unrepentant perjurer, delivering the most memorable, Academy Award-caliber turn of the entire film.
Rockwell, too, burns bright as the rebellious, fun-loving, hapless and world-weary Kenny, whose only hope for salvation rests in the dogged determination of the little sister who shared his rugged childhood and vowed never to abandon him.
Minnie Driver and Peter Gallagher lend strong, likable support as true-blue friend Abra and crusading lawyer Barry Scheck, Betty Anne’s only allies in the quest for the “lost” evidence that will save her brother.
Audiences will see where the story is leading long before it gets there, but it’s the journey and the wonderfully portrayed characters that make “Conviction” worth the ride, plus Goldwyn’s straightforward direction, which never allows things to stray into Hallmark territory.
— Gene Triplett
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis.
(Language, some violent images)