Film Review: "Conviction"

(Fox Searchlight.  1 hour, 47 minutes. Rated R for language and some violent images. Directed by Tony Goldwyn.) Hilary Swank (Betty Anne Waters), Sam Rockwell (Kenny Waters), Minnie Driver (Abra Rice), Melissa Leo (Nancy Taylor).  Music by Paul Cantelon.
Betty Anne (Swank), convinced that her brother Kenny (Rockwell) has been wrongfully incarcerated for murder, spends 18 years educating herself as a lawyer with the sole purpose of proving him innocent.  Based on a true story, Conviction gets by on the strength of the cast and an interesting plot, despite the film's lackluster script and scattershot presentation. 

The story (high-school dropout/housewife reinvents herself as a legal crusader) is compelling and worthwhile, but the telling is very uneven.  The script gives perfunctory glances to some events (Betty getting her GED, the dissolution of her marriage, etc.), while others are overdone and bordering on schmaltz (the flashbacks to Betty and Kenny's nigh-Dickensian childhood).  On that note, much of the story is told in flashback, but none of them are dated or identified; that jerkiness makes it difficult to follow the order of events and is quite distracting.  However, what the film lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in performances.  Rockwell does a great job as Kenny, giving him depth as a hard-drinking lout with a heart of gold.  Driver is glib and entertaining, playing well against Swank's hard-bitten earnestness.  Melissa Leo's crooked cop and Juliette Lewis's dabbling in white-trashiness round out a fine cast.  A more focused script, or a switch to a documentary-style presentation would have done wonders.  A decent piece of late-season Oscar bait that warrants at least a rental.
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Jared Counts

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Jared Counts moved to Houston in 1995, survived high school and college, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Houston with a degree in Communications (Media Production) and a minor in Film Studies...