Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Woman on a Mission -- Reflections on "Conviction" (2010)

No one can stop Hilary Swank when she's on a mission.
I'm not spoiling much about Conviction when I mention one of my favorite scenes comes later in the film when Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) asks her two sons if they would go to the ends of the earth to help each other like she has for her own brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell). The two boys hem-and-haw until the oldest says, definitively, "Yes." Then the younger reminds him that he would be screwing up his whole life to do so, to which the older realizes the gravity of the question. At the same moment, so does Betty Anne.

Conviction doesn't have many moments like this, but overall it is a quality movie about love, loyalty, and determination. It's also about our labyrinthine legal system that seems based more on pride and policy than on truth and justice. Both stories are interesting in their own way, a bit heavy-handed at times, and not as well-developed as they could have been. Nonetheless, this is a a decent movie with excellent performances that carry it.

Basics: Betty Anne Waters puts herself through law school in an attempt to get her brother out of prison. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but she could never bring herself to believe it even though the rest of the world did. This comes at great cost to Betty Anne, who loses her marriage, alienates her two boys, and nearly loses her focus on reality. With the help and support of her best friend, Abra (Minnie Driver), and the work of altruistic lawyer, Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher), Betty Anne finds renewed focus and fight.

Hilary Swank Will Make Lifetime Movies One Day: As ferocious and convincing as Swank is in this role, she's beginning to make a habit of taking on topical roles of "true life" strong women. I feel bad making this observation because at least she's trying to play different sorts of characters that are not of the typical male fantasy vibe. At the same time, because the roles are so topical (i.e. Boys Don't Cry, Freedom Writers) it's hard to overlook. There's no doubt she has considerable talent, and my hope is that one day she'll work with some great filmmakers who can give her an amazing script that will be an even greater showcase for her abilities. Otherwise, it won't be long before she starts her own genre of movies -- The Hilary Swank True Life Feminist Film.

Sam Rockwell Is Under-appreciated: After seeing Rockwell in Moon, and before that in Iron Man 2, it has become evident to me that Rockwell does not get the love he deserves from critics and fans. He is versatile and unique, bringing an ease to his performances that has to be the product of hard work. As Kenny Waters, Rockwell portrays a man who is charismatic, charming, yet also quite the asshole. In one scene, he is in a bar, dancing with his newborn daughter. We're on his side. When he bumps into a customer and is insulted for his clumsiness, Kenny hands off his baby girl and proceeds to deliver a beat down. Immediately he becomes detestable. But, not to be trumped, Kenny returns to his family and manages to win them over again with his charm as he start dancing to the band playing. The scene's a bit overdone, but Rockwell navigates the melodrama with deft timing, letting us in on the fact that we don't have to like Kenny to realize that he's not a killer. He's the best thing about this movie.

Watching Conviction, I was reminded of a great film -- Tim Robbins' 1994 classic Dead Man Walking with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. That film, like this one, is about a convicted killer whose guilt we have to question, whether or not we like him. The difference is that Dead Man Walking hinged on its ambiguity, forcing us to look inward on our own prejudices and beliefs. Conviction just wants us to enjoy a woman on a mission to save her brother. There's nothing wrong with it. It's limited, but it's got its moments.

No comments:

Post a Comment