Monday, November 1, 2010


It’s hard to be completely objective toward a movie after witnessing a panel discussion with the cast and real-life subjects directly after it.  For instance, Hilary Swank in person makes a damn good case for her role in Conviction, where she plays Betty Anne Waters, a woman who fought for decades to get her brother out of prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

During the movie, in which Swank is outacted by every other member of the extremely talented cast, I kept rolling my eyes at Swank’s God-awful, over the top New England accent.  Then, after the movie, I was privy to a Q&A where Swank, the real life Waters, and others participated.  After Waters’ first spoken sentence, I ate my words, because Swank in the film sounds exactly like her. 

It makes you think: what in films, particularly ones based on true stories, do we scuff at because it sounds or looks or seems absurd? 

My point is, Conviction isn’t a great film, and at times, it isn’t even very good.  But I appreciate it so much more having witnessed that Q&A (where, surprisingly, extremely interesting and important details not in the film were revealed).

Swank is not a good actress, but she has been outstanding in a few select roles, two of which earned her Oscars.  In Conviction, she is great when dealing with the bullshit bureaucracy of her brother’s ordeal.  Her scenes with fellow law school student Abra Rice (an excellent Minnie Driver) are where she is best.  But when she is forced to go toe to toe with her vengeful, angry brother, Kenny (a never-better Sam Rockwell), she is a mere afterthought.

Rockwell’s career has spanned from the good (Heist, Matchstick Men), the bold (Snow Angels, Moon) and the uncanny (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), and his performance in Conviction, most of which is done in prison meeting rooms, is a work of art.  Why has this guy never been nominated for an Oscar?

But there’s something missing here.  Along with Rockwell, the film’s other performances (by the likes of Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Peter Gallagher and Clea DuVall) are all flawless.  But the film is not.  It’s overly sentimental and fails to hit emotional peaks in scenes that should bring tears on with ease.

This happens every once and a while; fantastic performances fill a mediocre movie (North Country comes to mind).  And I’m not sure who to blame.  Maybe director Tony Goldwyn (the bad guy from Ghost), or his makeup artist (why does everyone age but Swank?). 

The marketing for this film has been very Swank-heavy.  She should step out of the way, it’s Rockwell’s show. B

(For an 
excerpt from the Q&A, click here, this was filmed via my BlackBerry so please forgive the shakiness and low quality. Also, the caffeinated editing was done as to not spoil plot elements from the film.)
Hilary Swank in Ashburn, Virginia

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