Conviction Limited Release by Fox Searchlight October 15th starring Hilary Swank
When Hilary Swank first appeared in Fox Searchlight’s latest release Conviction, I smiled, because when I see Hilary Swank it’s like seeing an old friend, and then I get happy because it’s comforting knowing there are people as amazing as she is in the world.
Conviction is a truth is stranger than fiction through and through, and I’d say much like Million Dollar Baby, there are points where telling the whole story makes the story seem too long until you realize how complete it all feels at the end. Also like MDB, Hilary Swank delivers a heartwarming and authentic feeling performance. Whoever Hilary has on call as her accent coach deserves major accolades, cause after rewatching MDB last night (to get pumped up) and now with her doing a New England accent, it never felt forced.
The story, which made the news circuit back in 2001, is of Betty Anne Water’s (played by two time oscar winning Hilary Swank) whose older brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1983. At the time, Kenny had a daughter Maggie and Betty Anne had her first boy; they were just on the verge of starting a family life together.
Kenny’s conviction hinges on testimony from two ex-girlfriends who claimed he bragged about the murder, and the fact that the blood at the crime scene not identified as the victims was the same blood type as Kenny.
Of course, no title would be complete without a double meaning, and Kenny’s tragic convention and life sentencing without parole is nothing compared to his sisters conviction that her brother is innocent and it drives her to take on the most unlikely of stories. Betty Anne, who never finished high school as her and her brother was shuffled from foster home to foster home, takes the GED, puts herself through college, and gets into Law School, all in the hopes of taking on her brother’s case and overturning the conviction.
Betty finds a best friend in fellow old woman in the class Abra Rice (Oscar nominee Minnie Driver) who becomes her rock in life, especially after Betty’s personal life starts to fall apart. The two of them re-comb through the evidence gathered by cop Nancy Taylor (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), who showed a prejudice toward Kenny from the very beginning. The story hinges on an organization which came about in the 90s which worked on overturning cases where DNA evidence can prove innocence.
Conviction’s strength lies in Hilary Swank’s ability to make the viewer believe in her own conviction. At no point does the story become about a middle aged mother defying the odds and going back to school for her own self satisfaction. We never see Hilary getting the hang of law school and really thriving. It’s always a means to an end, a rather extreme means to be sure, but extreme in a heartwarming way which is refreshing to see. Much like Doctor House, scenes of interaction with peers serve not to show her ability to interact with others but how conversation with others stimulates new ideas for how to get her brother out of prison. Hilary Swank has an uncanny ability to feel real in the roles she plays. She just flashes that million dollar smile and there’s no doubt as to her characters sincerity, that their wants are genuine and should be our wants too.
Kenny had to be played with two parts sweet and one part crazy, and we get that in spades from Sam Rockwell. The former serves to create a bond between you and the actor, you see how he is with his kid, you see the lengths he’ll go to protect his sister, how meaningful those bonds are to him and you want all they say about him to be untrue. But every now and again Sam will create reasonable doubt about his character, showing how dangerous that love can be when it comes out unbridled and kicking some random dude’s ass.
Minnie Driver as Abra Rice gets to provide some comic relief, but in an observational humor way not at all clowny. She also comes across as the ideal best friend, door is always open, can make you laugh when you need to laugh and will put the truth in front of you when you don’t want to see it. Betty’s convictions become Abra’s convictions, but since her loyalty is to Betty and not Kenny it’s even more amazing the lengths she goes to in aiding her friend in her pursuit of justice for her brother.
If you remember the story from the news, then the ending has already been spoiled for you, but there are still so many reasons to go and see Conviction. It’ll make you believe and then it’ll make you feel so good inside, which is a story worth telling in these times, that hard work, preservation and devotion are worthwhile pursuits. That no one should be able to shake your convictions.