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:: Conviction

Conviction is one of those films that fits neatly into the theme of “tough underdog fights the system”. It tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), whose loveable loser brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is given life without parole for a grisly murder she’s certain he didn’t commit. She decides to get her law degree in order to defend him.

Betty Anne's commitment to her brother’s release consumes her life, ruining her marriage, and almost costing her kids. There are setbacks in her efforts. But she gains a feisty best friend (Minnie Driver), a fellow adult law student, who rallies her spirits and helps her persevere.

Conviction takes place in the 1980s, before DNA evidence was widespread. Betty Anne realises that this is the only way she can save Kenny. Except Kenny has been in jail for fifteen years and it’s quite possible his evidence has been lost or destroyed. Betty Anne’s search for that evidence, and her unshakable belief in her brother’s innocence (anybody who even suggests that Kenny is guilty gets exiled from her home) provide the emotional and dramatic core of the film. The film effectively uses flashbacks from Betty Anne and Kenny’s troubled childhood to show how their bond was forged.

It’s the performances that really make Conviction sing. Hilary Swank is excellent as Betty Anne: We’ve seen her do this kind of role before - a feisty, determined woman who wears her heart on her sleeve - but she does it so well. Smaller parts are expertly filled by the likes of Melissa Leo (as a vindictive cop) and Juliette Lewis (as a strung out ex-girlfriend of Kenny’s). But the real revelation here is Sam Rockwell. When we first meet Kenny he is a cocksure bad boy, who always gets in trouble with the cops, but knows he can charm his way out of most instances. At some point, though, while in jail, he becomes a broken man - one who believes the system is out to get him - and Rockwell makes subtle changes in Kenny’s body language to depict this. He ages in a sad, believable way.

Directed by the actor Tony Goldwyn, Conviction is a really good story, and well told. It's a rewarding, rock-solid, drama which deserves a wide audience.