Goldwyn’s ‘Conviction’ keeps an even keel

Posted by · 9:50 am · September 29th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write about “Conviction” since I saw it last week and just haven’t really settled on a way to gather my thoughts.  In a nutshell, I liked it.  Quite a lot, actually.  It’s not rousing or inspiring to the point that I had to write immediately (obviously), but it’s relatively harmless and generally quite agreeable.

That sounds like damning with faint praise I imagine but I was kind of a mess watching it.  All the emotional beats hit me just right.  I’ll admit I got a bit teary-eyed at the sustained chemistry between Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, who portray loving siblings with a level of authenticity and complexity that’s difficult to pinpoint.  The script never feels manipulative even though its painting in extremely familiar dramatic strokes.

Rockwell has received most of the praise so far and he deserves it.  Interestingly enough, though, he doesn’t bring anything more than he has for the last 10 or 15 years in film after film.  He’s always good for better than solid and here he’s just finally getting his due.  He’s one of a precious few actors who sells it perfectly each and every time out.  You just buy him in whatever the role.

I was also surprised at how relatively easy Swank made it look.  She’s become a punching bag as of late but beyond truly awful work in “Amelia,” I’ll admit to never understanding the hate.  I guess it’s the second Oscar that did it for most.  In any case, she’s great here and nails the, well, conviction.

Someone else worth mentioning is Minnie Driver as the supportive friend of a certain age, also putting herself through law school.  She sports just the right balance of tough love and kind empathy that keeps the film safe and warm throughout.  And though Juliette Lewis has one major scene (with a second disposable moment in a courtroom setting), she blasts it out of the park.  Some might think it’s histrionic but I thought she killed.

Yeah, this isn’t ambitious work by any stretch, but it is an effort for Tony Goldwyn to be proud of, I think.  I would have liked something about the unfortunate twist of fate that met Kenneth Waters just a few weeks after he was freed (which I’m told was shot but, understandably, tested poorly with audiences).  That might have been an opportunity for deeper thematic reach rather than the saccharine-doused denouement, but again, the film works perfectly well.

What else to say but that?  As far as Oscars, Rockwell is probably still good for a nomination, but I feel like a concerted push could get quite a bit more.  It’s as baity as you probably imagine it to be but not offensively so, by any means.  It’s a soft lob, but I say thumbs up.  (Do I owe Roger Ebert money now?)

[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

→ 17 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

17 responses so far

  • 1 9-29-2010 at 9:58 am

    Suzanne said...

    I’m glad to hear your praise, especially for Rockwell and Swank. I think the hate stems from her second Oscar, to be sure, but people forget how deserving she was for the first one.

  • 2 9-29-2010 at 10:00 am

    Jim T said...

    I remember you saying “I liked Conviction. Sue me” on Twitter (tweets are so easy to remember) but you didn’t seem to mean Ebert :p (lame joke, moving on)

    I don’t know how I would react if I were that woman (the one Swank portrays). Would I have liked the fact that they only reminded me of the good stuff (kind of) or would I be angry that they didn’t tell the whole story? Their right to do whatever they want, of course, but that’s theoretical. Any way.

    Still not sure if I care to see this.

  • 3 9-29-2010 at 10:14 am

    JFK said...

    Kris, this is good news. I’ve always liked Swank and was disappointed by Amelia (as many were). What did you mean by “I feel like a concerted push could get quite a bit more?” For who?

  • 4 9-29-2010 at 10:20 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, maybe even Best Supporting Actress. I just feel like it’s all territory that has been nominated in the past and unless the critics just take a dump all over it, it has that spark that AMPAS tends to go for.

  • 5 9-29-2010 at 10:33 am

    Julian Stark said...

    Glad to see you enjoyed the film. I’m eagerly anticipating it, even though I don’t see it being an Oscar contender outside of Sam Rockwell’s supporting performance.

    How was Juliette Lewis?

  • 6 9-29-2010 at 10:39 am

    mark said...

    I don’t get the hate either,she was great in amelia it was the rest of it that was awful she certainly wasn’t.if you can explain why she was awful i would love to know.

  • 7 9-29-2010 at 10:41 am

    kevin said...

    I will always admire Hilary Swank’s talent ( especially in ” Boys Don’t Cry”) . But, Kate Winslet should have won her Oscar for ” Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ” – not “The Reader”.

  • 8 9-29-2010 at 10:55 am

    Joey said...

    I feel like I go back and forth with my feelings of Swank. No one can deny that she’s a great actress. As much as I love American Beauty she was definitely deserving of her Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry. I would have loved to have seen AB be the first Academy sweep in a long time though.

    I have to disagree with you, Mark, on her being great in Amelia. She came across like a My Left Foot Katharine Hepburn to me in that.

  • 9 9-29-2010 at 11:25 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Julian: OH! I totally meant to mention Lewis, actually, who kills it in just one scene.

  • 10 9-29-2010 at 11:25 am

    Joe said...

    Her job in Million Dollar Baby was not great. But in my book, if you give one of the best performances in film history (especially in a movie that, besides introducing the world to Peter Sarsgaard, wasn’t very good otherwise), you can do anything you want.

  • 11 9-29-2010 at 12:04 pm

    Michael said...

    wow that’s a bummer that Kenny Waters died not long after being exonerated. That kinda makes the whole thing seem really depressing and futile, but the fact that they don’t include that in there is really not surprising. I still don’t really have any interest to see this movie, but it is good to know that Sam Rockwell (who I love as an actor) might get a nomination out of it.

  • 12 9-29-2010 at 12:15 pm

    Evan said...

    I saw this at TIFF and I pretty much agree with you Kris. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s a really solid drama that is extremely entertaining and moving and features some really good performances. Some noms are a definite possibility. I do agree that it would have been elevated to another level had it included the fate of Kenny after he was released.

  • 13 9-29-2010 at 1:43 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    The thing is, this looks like exactly the kind of film critics get the long knives out for. It will be savaged.

  • 14 9-29-2010 at 2:27 pm

    caro said...

    a solid drama ! nice!

  • 15 9-29-2010 at 3:53 pm

    Silencio said...

    Yeah, I’d prefer telling the whole of this story but it’d be really surprising if they did. It’d be like if Michael Mann ended “Ali” with the whole Parkinson’s era. It’s true, but folks wanna walk out of the theatre feeling good, even via the soft lob.

  • 16 9-29-2010 at 11:29 pm

    Glenn said...

    Look at the gazelles! Look how free they are!

  • 17 8-05-2014 at 7:08 pm

    Ericsson said...

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