When Hollywood tackles a real-life sob story, it’s usually a recipe for the drab tedium of a TV movie. So respect is due to director Tony Goldwyn, writer Pamela Gray and actors Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell for embracing the melodramatic potential of this tale of wrongful imprisonment and sibling love and crafting an unashamedly old-school weepie aimed squarely at the Reader’s Digest set.
Swank plays Betty-Anne Waters, a struggling mother of two whose world implodes when her beloved big brother, town tearaway Kenny (Rockwell), is imprisoned for first degree murder. When a series of appeals fails to clear Kenny’s name, Betty-Anne heads to law school, banking her family’s future on her unshakeable faith in Kenny’s innocence.
Traditional and unambitious it may be, but ‘Conviction’ is a good tale persuasively told. Goldwyn’s direction is bland but efficient, Gray’s unfussy script steers clear of unnecessary sentiment and interest is maintained by a spectrum of superb supporting players, notably Melissa Leo as a vengeful cop, Peter Gallagher as a crusading lawyer and Juliette Lewis, in her most memorable role in years, as a nicotine-stained, trailer-dwelling deviant.
But the two leads are the main attraction: pitching her performance somewhere between Joan Crawford and Jodie Foster, Swank’s Betty-Anne is all restrained emotion and quiet defiance and she’s a calm centre around which Rockwell’s showier, edgier Kenny can orbit. So when the plot turns predictable or the dialogue becomes too earnest and uplifting, these two workhorses ensure that ‘Conviction’ remains convincing.
(A Condenação in Portuguese)