Movie Review: Conviction- While the Film Suffers from Constant Exposition the Long Struggle for Justice is Inevitably a Relatively Satisfying One

At the heart of every prison drama there is a struggle against some oppressive adversity, whether it’s the wrongful treatment of prisoners in Jules Dassin’s Brute Force or the blatant wrongful imprisonment of the innocent in Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father. Justice is an incredibly moral and uniquely human idea that is satisfying to see prevail in the end especially when there are systemic obstacles in the way of grasping that final moment of freedom. In the film Conviction there is a great deal of emotionally charged mistakes in this true story that inevitably connects the audience with the struggle on the screen, especially with Hillary Swank’s determined and border line obsessive protagonist, yet it takes some time to get to that point. The entire film does tend to drag at a leisurely pace with an anchor of time weighing down on the script’s limitations on addressing a trial and case that spans over a 20 year time period. However, the performances in the film Conviction are captivating enough to keep us engaged on the seemingly long trek that is in the end incredibly rewarding as we witness how persistence and love can bring true justice to life. While Hillary Swank is in her typical acting mode, one that utilizes her best though familiar skills, it really is the charming and hostile performance from Sam Rockwell that triggers our sympathies and makes Swank’s daunting journey a worthwhile endeavor that symbolizes a truly genuine family relationship. It’s a film all about the dramatic performances and while the film altogether feels longer than it should be, Conviction does eventually connect to us to our more sympathetic nature for those who have been the subject of blatant injustice.

The concept of time in the film Conviction has quite the paradoxical effect with the script’s limitations considering that the character’s experiences span over 20 years and increase our desire for justice while diminishing our interest with constant exposition. Conviction tells the true and exhausting story of two types of determined convictions, the first being the false imprisonment of Kenneth “Muddy” Waters and the second being his sister Betty Ann’s fortitude to prove his innocence by going through law school and becoming Kenny’s personal lawyer. The journey consists of flashbacks that focus on the closeness of Kenny and Betty Ann’s relationship as brother and sister and how they could only depend on each other growing up. This is the same drive that keeps Betty Ann going through all the trials and tribulations that consistently put obstacles in her way to proving Kenny’s innocence and release from prison. Her persistence is a life giving support for Kenny who dabbles in suicidal thoughts and loses hope on a constant basis. The script focuses mainly on Betty Ann’s struggles consisting of divorce, attending school while trying to raise two boys, and passing the BAR exam in order to become Kenny’s lawyer. While this is a worthwhile focus the film feels longer than it should be while at the same time not allowing much of Kenny’s experiences to be known to raise our awareness and sympathies of his situation. Rockwell provides a great template for our sympathies to work off of but the film would have felt more rounded if his prison experiences were part of this long-term story.

Justice is known to many but has had various interpretations over the course of any common law system. The ambiguity over Kenny’s original trial in the film, which has shoddy evidence but many testifying witnesses, is depicted to the audience through Betty Ann’s perspective that her brother is definitely innocent. Her personal judgment is questioned due to her close relationship to her brother but her determination to get him an appeal and prove his innocence shows great courage and love. The fact that Kenny never told her to stop doing what she was doing proved to the audience on a subtle level that Kenny was truly innocent. So bringing Kenny justice, or undoing the various wrongs against him in his original trial, is done through modern technology connecting DNA to a particular individual. Conviction has a lot to address in the film not only in explaining the deep relationship bonds between Kenny and Betty Ann or Betty Ann’s determination to go through law school and find the evidence to prove Kenny’s innocence but also serve as a survey into how modern technology could prove innocent those who were wrongfully accused of crimes when the technology wasn’t around. It’s a sort of praise of our current way of doing things while also haunts the audience over how many people could have been falsely imprisoned due to lack of ability to prove them innocent. While the film is handled well, in concept, long exposition, and addressing an important subject, the truth is that Conviction isn’t particularly riveting as a court room/prison drama. It’s an admirable film on many levels but is structured oddly and drags out certain parts of the story that make the film experience longer than it should be while not nearly addressing all of the right elements.

Luckily the acting in the film is good enough to keep our interests from fading as the plot becomes more expected and elongated in pacing. Hillary Swank is at times an overrated actress in praise but when it comes down to actual delivery she is a definite gem in the business. While her performance was lackluster in Amelia, a consequence of the script and not her abilities, she makes up for that here in Conviction where her grit is felt while her love is undeniable. It also helps that the diversely talented Sam Rockwell, who gives an academy award earning performance as Kenny “Muddy” Waters, is playing her loving counterpart. Rockwell’s ability to be charming one minute and hopeless the next shows his range as an actor and truly ignites the audience’s desire to see this fragile yet loving man be freed so he can finally be with his daughter. Conviction certainly highlights the most positive aspects of human struggle in the midst of legal hardship and truly utilizes these two actor’s performances for the best possible outcome. The rest of the cast including Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, and Peter Gallagher provide ample material for good side characters that help aide the believability of Hillary Swank’s struggling depiction of Betty Ann Waters.

There are many dramas that focus on the wrongful imprisonment of individuals (Shawshank Redemption/In the Name of the Father) and the courtroom struggle of determining someone’s innocence (Witness for the Prosecution/Young Mr. Lincoln). Conviction is loose combination of the two following Betty Ann through her years of struggle to become a lawyer for the sole purpose of proving her brother’s innocence. As a story of determined sibling love Conviction works to connect to its audience but lacks other elements, including an atmosphere of intrigue into Betty Ann’s personal life, which allows our interests in the characters and the film itself to dwindle in and out. However, there’s a great deal to be satisfied with once the final moment of freedom eventually comes around since our frustrations with the system alongside Betty Ann’s 20 year struggle are finally resolved. If you’re looking for a drama that delicately shows the power of family relationship’s through good acting than Conviction is certainly a movie worth checking out. However, the final product of Conviction as a court room and/or prison drama certainly lacks a great deal of intrigue.

Grade: B-

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One Response to “Movie Review: Conviction- While the Film Suffers from Constant Exposition the Long Struggle for Justice is Inevitably a Relatively Satisfying One”
  1. xmcdeltatt says:

    Thank you for informing us…

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