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Monday, January 10, 2011


"It's okay, sis. Annette Bening still isn't winning."

In the backwoods of Massachusetts, two children grew up relying on only each other. Betty Anne and Kenneth Waters. Years later, after being the resident “bad egg” of their town, Kenneth is locked up for life - without parole - for a murder he might not have committed.

The story, based on true events, is about Betty Anne’s struggle to prove her brother’s innocence, which leads to her life’s work for Prisoner Rights and advanced DNA testing to free wrongfully convicted inmates. Conviction is aptly named.

Working as a film that invokes the power of “this unfortunate event happened so others won’t have to go through it”, it’s an incredibly watchable experience. Not necessarily enjoyable, but watchable nonetheless. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell - Betty Anne and Kenny, respectively - have excellent chemistry and handle their scenes to the best of their extraordinary abilities. Two powerhouse actors at the tops of their games. The unfortunate thing about this, however, is that the screenplay’s TV-movie sensibilities and structure keep them from going above and beyond. The movie has its moments; the courtroom scenes are above par, and there are a handful of supporting performances that are very worthy of note. In particular, Juliette Lewis storms the set with her caricature of Kenny’s jilted ex-lover, and Melissa Leo’s crooked cop oozes evil charm.

The true story of the Waters saga ends on a much more bitter note, however, than the film does. News reports indicate that shortly after Kenny’s release from prison, he died from a skull fracture, doing something seemingly harmless. It’s a testament to Rockwell’s explosive performance that we feel as much for him as we do - he’s a brutal drinker, and a mean man, but he loves his family without fail. Rockwell makes him someone you really just want to have a beer with. It’s criminal that he’s been so overlooked by the Academy Awards for so many years, but that will never effect the caliber of his work. He’s flat-out brilliant, almost always.

Hilary Swank, in her type-cast role as the stalwart `must succeed` woman, does incredibly well with the limited script. She’s always been the type of actress who refuses to let the limitations of the project in which she’s involved determine the kind of performance she’s to deliver. For further evidence of this theory, see P.S. I Love You. Strong comedic work, but subtly dramatic when needed to be. Here, she’s soft-spoken but knows when to get loud, and she’s kind-hearted. You can feel the love she has for her brother, and you can certainly feel her conviction. And again, it’s the chemistry she shares with her co-star that pulls this film a bit up from mediocrity. Pacing issues make the film a bit boring at times, but the performances and thoughtful editing definitely kept me interested. It’s impossible to keep your eyes off of Rockwell, and it’s impossible to not think about him when he’s off the screen. I wish he were getting more credit.

Though it feels like a CBS court procedural more often than not, we’re never led astray. The straight forwardness of the script is to be commended, even though it makes more use of stereotypes than it should have been allowed to. Solid watch, though, and definitely something you should see to “complete” your 2010 viewings, if only for Sam Rockwell’s remarkable performance.