|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Fine performances can't save a lacklustre legal thriller...
Whatever your thoughts on the United States penal system, there is no doubt that mistakes can happen. Conviction, based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her brother Kenny, is a testimony to the strength and endurance of the family bond as the sister of a convicted murderer puts her own life on hold in the belief and pursuit of his innocence.
Having initially put their faith in the public defender, Betty Anne is so sure that her brother is not guilty of the murder of Massachusetts waitress Katharina Brow that, following his failed appeal, she enrols in years of punishing academia in order to qualify as a legal attorney to represent him. However, the relentless struggle of studying, managing a bar, and looking after her two children puts a strain on her marriage, not helped by Kenny’s previous history as a violent troublemaker, and the lingering thought in some minds that he may actually have been the killer.In a sense, then, Conviction is two parts family drama, and one part detective story. It is based on true events, but really struggles to offer much in the way of a cinematic journey. There is certainly some emotional punch, but despite the stakes being high, each scene tends to merely skim the surface as we move on to what we assume is the inevitable conclusion. In between the standard highs and lows are a couple of unnecessary childhood flashbacks which really offer very little except to slow down the narrative, plus a very clichéd scene when the police arrest Kenny during a funeral eulogy.
The best moments are in the quiet, unspoken reflections between Betty Anne and Kenny which really identify this film as a love story between two siblings, rather than the detective story it purports to be. Therein lies the dilemma, because there is not enough focus on either of those elements, unlike Paul Haggis’ upcoming thriller The Next Three Days. Both stories are about proving the innocence of a convicted felon, but the latter manages to better identify its genre and is overall a much more successful effort.
Of the impressive list of actors, Sam Rockwell brings a great deal of depth to his portrayal of Kenny Waters, a role for which it would have been very easy to fall into the obvious clichés. Swank, ever the underdog, and looking more like Matt Damon with every film, brings her usual charm and inner resolve, but seems somewhat limited by the material, whilst the trio of Oscar nominees Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis and Melissa Leo never really get enough screen time to contribute effectively.
Clearly director Tony Goldwyn and his fellow producers have chosen not to stray too far from the truth of what is an admittedly compelling story. There is a stark reality to the clothing, the locations and the cinematography which provide a grim outlook of working-class Massachusetts in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Yet, whilst there is some success in contrasting police injustice with the selflessness of Betty Anne Waters, the film as a whole left me largely underwhelmed.
Conviction is released in the UK on the 14th of January 2011
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