I've heard a lot of talk about how Hilary Swank's career is going down the toilet. Sure, movies like "P.S.", The Reaping", or the recent direct-to-video fiasco "The Resident" give out a negative vibe. But, with "Conviction", she proves that she is far from wasting her talent on bad movies. Unfortunately, much like "Amelia", this movie smells more like awards bait and lacks the bite of the more daring cinematic ventures that led to her two Oscars. Nevertheless, it's still a great story and an entertaining experience.
There are some major spoilers in this paragraph, so read accordingly. Betty Anne Waters' story is quite extraordinary. Her struggle to exonerate her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell), wrongfully convicted for murder based on false evidence and sentenced to life in prison, took no less than 18 years and requiered her to finish high-school, college and law school. After finally becoming a lawyer, Betty Anne (Hilary Swank), with the help of her friend, Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), and Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) of the Innocence Project, managed to dig up new evidence that proved her brother's innocence.
The movie lacks the strength that would have made it one of the best movies of 2010. It's effective, but ultimately "Conviction" relies too much on its cast to elevate it. And it truly is an excellent ensemble of actors that can indeed work miracles. Swank is pitch-perfect as the single mom fighting the system to save her brother. Sam Rockwell is mesmerizing as Betty Anne's mercurial and not entirely likable brother. Juliette Lewis is surprisingly creepy in her two short appearances as Kenny's ex-girlfriend. Melissa Leo's talent, however, is completely wasted here, as her character isn't really given much screen-time, and nothing interesting to do when she actually is on-screen.
Director Tony Goldwyn focuses the narrative on the brother-sister relationship and the sacrifices Betty Anne makes. While the story is indeed emotionally stirring and the cast is terrific, the movie still fails to achieve greatness. It's entertaining enough, but its complacency in predictable storytelling and a lack of interest in further exploring the characters it asks us to care about justify comparisons to TV melodramas. If Goldwyn would have shown a little more conviction while making this movie, it would have been hailed as one of the best movies of last year. As it stands, it's just pretty good.