Conviction: Tony Goldwyn’s Inspirational Biopic Starring Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell

As a fact-based film, “Conviction,” the story of a stubborn woman who devoted decades to exonerate her wrongly accused and imprisoned brother, is not formulaic but it’s too conventional in narrative and direction to qualify as a truly good film.

The filmmakers—director Tony Goldwyn and scribe Pamela Gray, seem too concerned with turning this legal biopic into an ultimately inspirational and uplifting tale, neglecting crucial aspects of the case that would have illuminated the lives of its central protagonists, the siblings Betty Anne Waters and Kenny Waters. 

Even so, the performances of both Hilary Swank and especially of Sam Rockwell, still one of the most gifted and underestimated thespian around, are compelling, elevating the saga slightly above its middle-brow sensibility.

Since “Conviction” is based on a true story, I find it strange that we are not informed that Kenny Waters died in September of 2001, only six months after being released from prison. Did the filmmakers think it would spoil the experience of this “against all odds triumph”? That we would root less for the underdogs to succeed?

World-premiering at the Toronto Film Fest (in Special Presentations), “Conviction,” which will be released by Fox Searchlight on October 15, should appeal to mature, if conservative audiences interested in well-acted melodramas, which wear their messages on their sleeves..

Rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s experts in embodying strong and determined working-class women, Hilary Swank plays the Massachusetts based Betty Anne Waters, who works hard as a waitress in order to support her two children. It becomes clear that she studies law for one main purpose, to clear the name of her brother Kenny (Rockwell), who’s serving life sentence without parole for allegedly killing a woman in Ayer, Massachusetts, back in 1980.

As written by Pamela Gray, “Conviction” unfolds as a dramatic account of a wrongly accused man, and the 18-year-long crusade of his sister to exonerate him. Predictably, Gray takes a psychologistic approach in illustrating the case by inserting flashbacks of the protagonists’ pasts and the murder trial.

The intimacy of the bond between the brother and his sister is conveyed in a series of scenes, in which the characters are played by young actors (Tobias Campbell and Bailee Madison). There may be too many flashbacks. Which for the most part are too simplistic and explanatory.

We learn that Kenny, a fun-loving, if irresponsible boy, was sent to prison in 1983, but all along claiming he is innocent. Willing to sacrifice her life for him, Betty Anne goes through hard work and completing her formal education (she first needs to get a high-school diploma)

After passing the Bar exam, Betty Anne recruits the help of her loyal friend chum Abra (Minnie Driver) and the powerful attorney Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) in trying to unveil crucial evidence and perform the DNA tests that would demonstrate Kenny’s innocence.

 

The film gathers much needed dramatic momentum, when we get to the investigation and trial hearings and are introduced to a tough police woman, (Melissa Leo, Oscar-nominee for “Frozen River,” in another strong turn), who’s determined to frame him and send him to jail as quickly as possible.

 

Cast

Betty Anne Waters – Hilary Swank
Kenny Waters – Sam Rockwell
Abra Rice – Minnie Driver
Nancy Taylor – Melissa Leo
Barry Scheck – Peter Gallagher
Mandy Marsh – Ari Graynor
Rick – Loren Dean
Richard – Conor Donovan
Ben – Owen Campbell
Roseanna Perry – Juliette Lewis

Credits

 

A Fox Searchlight release presented in association with Omega Entertainment, Oceana Media Finance and Prescience of an Andrew Sugerman, Longfellow Pictures production.

Produced by Sugerman, Andrew S. Karsch, Tony Goldwyn.

Executive producers, Hilary Swank, Markus Barmettler, Alwyn Hight Kushner, James Smith, Anthony Callie, Myles Nestel.

Co-producers, Ed Cathell III, Dama Claire.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn.

Screenplay, Pamela Gray.
Camera, Adriano Goldman.

Editor, Jay Cassidy.

Music, Paul Cantelon; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher.

Production designer, Mark Ricker.

Art director, Stephanie Gilliam.

Set decorator, Rena DeAngelo.

Costume designer, Wendy Chuck.

Sound, David Obermeyer; supervising sound editors, Christopher Barnett, Jorg Elsner; re-recording mixers, Max Rammler-Rogall, Michael Hinreiner.

Visual effects supervisor, Mat Beck; visual effects, Entity FX.

Stunt coordinator, Rick LeFevour.

Assistant director, Nick Mastandrea.

Casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee.

 

MPAA Rating: R.

 

Running time: 95 Minutes.