Conviction’s opening scene is chilling. The camera veers like a silent predator into the home of a murder victim. The blood that is smothered over the walls suggests a struggle. As the camera steers into the bedroom we see the body of a women and our first instinct is to ask the obvious question; who is the killer? It seems that actor turned director Tony Goldwyn isn’t interested in who has committed this bloodthirsty atrocity. Conviction tells the true story of Betty Ann Waters, who enrols in law school in order to defend her brother Kenny, who is wrongfully accused of this murder. Don’t get me wrong, Conviction is a good film, but it’s not a great film. Goldwyn makes a good move in casting two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank as the loyal Betty-Ann Waters. Sam Rockwell’s dedication to the role of Kenny pays off in a strong and credible performance. The trouble with Conviction is that it struggles to know what kind of film it is. Is it a biopic? Is it a crime thriller? A family drama? Who knows. This is where Goldwyn starts to deviate from Oscar territory.
Despite all the emphasis on crime and murder in the opening scene, this is actually a love story (even down to the text book childhood flashbacks). Betty-Ann is relentless when she sacrifices her marriage, children and youth for her one true love, her brother. Although this is terribly sentimental and poetic it wasn’t enough to get my pulse going. Unfortunately the film falls flat and doesn’t pack the punch you would expect. Despite her dedication and unwavering efforts, Swank’s portrayal of Betty-Ann feels like a lacklustre version of Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. Goldwyn’s film is an artful piece of cinema, but the compromise between telling this true story and accommodating to the needs of the audience means that there is little suspense, conflict or irony. The supporting cast carry the film through its tedious moments, with Mini Driver (the best friend), Juliet Lewis (the screw up) and Peter Gallagher (the good guy lawyer, basically his OC persona). Goldwyn’s feature is well worth a watch but lacks the conviction to be a standout amongst the fierce competition at the box office this year.