Director: Tony Goldwyn
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)
Conviction has excellent performances from stars Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, but … meh, this film just didn’t do much for me.
A young man who goes to jail for murder, and his sister spends most of two decades trying to prove he’s innocent, going so far as to finish college and go through law school to become her brother’s attorney when all appeals seem exhausted. The flourishing of DNA evidence gives her one last hope of finally getting him out and succeeding in a crusade that cost her a marriage, at times alienated her from her two sons and from her only (apparently) friend, played by Minnie Driver. The movie is based on a true story, and some of its dramatic failings may be the result of truth not being strange enough for fiction.
The highest single price Swank pays for her crusade, amid years and years of overall struggle and sacrifice, is that her obsession with her brother’s case causes her husband to leave her, shortly after she’s had two kids. The breakdown of the marriage is handled almost entirely off camera, so any drama there is stillborn. There’s no drama to the conclusion—especially given that it’s based on a true story someone found so remarkable that they bought the movie rights. So all we do is watch a grim and relentless Swank plod past a crowd of naysayers in her quest for justice. Her brother, understandably, has a hard time living with a life sentence, so there’s the question of whether he’ll survive long enough to be exonerated, but that’s not the focus of the movie; we follow Swank’s plodding.
Also tiring is a standard script trick of trying to make us wonder whether, in fact, her brother is guilty. Part of this entails never showing Rockwell denying the murder (other than to the cops who first harass/arrest him over it). It’s a natural part of the conversation conspicuous from its absence, and it’s a lame trick anyway. If the guy did commit murder, he might easily lie about it to his family, so where’s the tension in omitting it?
Further, the film actually provides a villain, belatedly identified. This miscarriage of justice was not merely unfortunate circumstance, but the result of corruption. We’re assured in a block of text at the end of the film that the perpetrator faced justice, but not seeing it on screen weakens the story considerably.
The film’s flashbacks into the siblings’ childhood, to explain Swank’s unwavering devotion, are not remarkable, but that’s what troubles the whole film. The basic concept, a woman spends 16 years obsessively pursuing justice for her brother, is compelling. The actual details as they unfold largely are not.
Conviction tells a remarkable story, but not every story is suited to the screen. It’s a well-made, well-acted thing that sort of falls flat for that reason.