This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 20th February 2011.
You have to love a good courtroom drama. The more “Objection, your Honour!”s and eleventh-hour discoveries of new evidence, the better. And based on a true story?? You had me at “You’re nicked”.
Conviction has all this, plus three of the best actors currently on our screens. Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank is Betty-Anne Waters, a high school drop-out who believes unconditionally that her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) has been convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. Melissa Leo appears, too fleetingly, as the crotchety-faced police officer who put Kenny away. It ought to be terrific.
Kenny the delinquent child has grown into an adult with anger management issues, so it’s little wonder the local police haul him up when a woman is brutally murdered. We’re never told what his motive might have been, but we see snippets from the court case and before you can say “unreliable witness”, Kenny is put away for life. All that
remains is for his loyal sister to graduate college, put herself through law school, pass the bar exam, become a lawyer, and get him off.
It’s not this true story’s fault that it takes 18 years. It’s a hard tale to tell visually and energetically, focusing on Betty-Anne and her supportive friend Abra (Minnie Driver providing the film’s light relief) or Betty-Anne talking to Kenny in prison, whose purpose it is to look more haggard each time she visits. And since this is reality, there
isn’t going to be a shooting on the courthouse steps, or Kenny escaping through a storm drain. We wait, with the ever-patient Betty Anne, for her luck to turn.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t hit its mark. The quest is admirable, but the acting sometimes a little hollow – Swank is accomplished at welling up with tears and being impassioned, but we don’t really feel her anguish or inevitable exhaustion. Similarly, the pacing is uneven – the first quarter of the film is crime-drama-by-numbers, then no sooner does someone mutter “DNA” than we’re off! only to lag again until an eleventh-hour scene-stealing cameo from Juliette Lewis. Conviction is all very worthy, like its protagonist, but it didn’t have me convinced.