by Ryan Hill
One of the most difficult things for movies based on true stories to pull off is holding the audience’s interest when everyone already knows the outcome.
Some, like “Apollo 13” and “Thirteen Days,” manage to sustain suspense to the point where the already known outcome may or may not, in fact, happen. Unless the movie is about gangsters, most of these movies need something else to hang their hat on, like an Oscar-winning performance, á la Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich.”
Hilary Swank has made a career out of playing real-life characters, to varying results. Some of them, such as “Boys Don’t Cry,” have worked out while others, such as “Amelia,” not so much. Her latest, “Conviction,” falls into the latter category.
Swank plays Betty Anne Waters, whose brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell), a ne’er-do-well who’s been in and out of trouble his entire life, is convicted of murder. Despite Kenny’s run-ins with the law, Betty Anne believes whole-heartedly that her brother has been framed, so much so that she enters law school so she can become his lawyer and fight for his freedom.
Swank, whose tomboyish good looks don’t serve her as well here as they have in the past, plays Betty Anne with all of the gusto one would expect from her, but the problem is Betty Anne just isn’t that interesting. She’s not sassy, and whatever personal problems she has don’t seem to matter to anyone, especially herself, which makes following her around for almost two hours become a chore quickly, especially when almost everyone around her falls into some sort of cardboard-cut-out personality.
The only character who shows any kind of energy is Rockwell’s Kenny. Much like in his previous performances, Rockwell brings a manic energy to Kenny, only here he adds some regret to the mix, making it the only award-worthy performance in the film.
“Conviction” has a paint-by-numbers plot that serves little purpose outside of making sure the film’s runtime exceeds 90 minutes. Every obstacle in Betty Anne’s way feels contrived and overused. Betty Anne’s husband wants her to quit law school so she can stay home. Her kids are tired of her mom trying to free her brother instead of taking them fishing. After a while, it just becomes laughable.
The most ridiculous obstacle is Betty Anne’s struggle to secure evidence that could possibly exonerate Kenny because of DNA testing. Betty Anne makes phone call after phone call, trying to get hold of the evidence, gets rebuked, complains about how difficult it is to get the evidence, then everyone tells her she should just quit. Then, once enough time had passed, voilá! Betty Anne goes in person to get the evidence, and what do you know? She gets the evidence.
“Conviction” tries entirely too hard to copy the “Brockovich” formula, leading to a mixed bag of a movie that strives to be an award-level film but, with the exception of Sam Rockwell, ends up being one that should’ve never gotten past the Lifetime network.
Grade: 2/4 Stars