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June 23, 2011

Conviction (2010)

 By John Leavengood

                       MY CALL:    The emotional struggle depicted by Swank and Rockwell is palpable.  We find ourselves questioning whether “it’s all worth it” or not as we see their characters clinging desperately to a hope against.  Don’t watch this if you’ve been having a tough time yourself. [B]

        This movie opens without pulling any punches.  A murder scene, prison letters illustrating poor grammar, some tattoos outside the scope of a typical wall flash at your local parlor, and Sam Rockwell (playing Kenny Waters) made to look villainous and ever-so-approachable at the same time with a sincere and human smile surrounded by a Luciferan goatee and slicked back hair.  Cut to a scene in a law school classroom and some family photos and we understand all we need.

            Hilary Swank plays Kenny’s sister, Betty Anne.  Her teen children diligently care for this studiously overworked mother, who tries to return this attention in kind by asking about specific homework assignments.  But her attention is clearly biased to her law studies, the texts of which she wakes up facing at her desk beside a bowl of cereal thoughtfully placed by a caring son.  We quickly understand the division of her priorities and the heavy-heartedness with which she tries to mitigate this challenge.

            This true story of “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Kenneth Waters” has several ways of tugging at our heartstrings with life-changing events and vicious plot turns.  While they never feel forced on us too hard, just know that this movie’s feel good moments are very brief.  The addition of a supportive Minnie Driver, a broken-down zombie-mouthed Juliette Lewis, and a stolid Melissa Leo add what they can to a movie that is clearly driven by the emotional tug-of-war between a tortured man and his over-sacrificing savior-sister.

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