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Conviction found guilty of murdering viewer's time

By Anthony Lauriello     10/21/10 7:00pm

While it may surprise certain ex-girlfriends and former high school teachers of mine, I do, in fact possess a heart. Therefore, I cannot help but feel good and a little choked up when George Bailey discovers Zuzu's petals are still in his pocket in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life or when Will Hunting decides to go after the girl in Good Will Hunting. So I approached Conviction , a movie based on the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters (played by Hilary Swank of Million Dollar Baby fame), a woman who became a lawyer to exonerate her falsely imprisoned brother Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell of Frost/Nixon ), with the hope that I could revel in the human spirit before I had to leave the theater and get back to slogging my life away in the cruel yoke of academics. Unfortunately, the only thing I felt during the film was the all too familiar feeling of ennui.The plot follows the close relationship of the Waters siblings after the violent murder of Kenny's neighbor in the lower-class community of Ayer, Mass. The evidence seems overwhelmingly stacked against Kenny, but Betty remains steadfast in her belief in his innocence, even when a judge sentences him to live the rest of his days behind bars. Despite being a high school dropout and single mother, Betty overcomes the educational hurdles to pass the bar exam.

From what I gathered, law school taught her that the legal system requires her to either yell or cry in front of various clerks and former witnesses from her brother's trials. In fact, a discernible pattern begins to emerge at one point of the movie. Betty talks to her brother in jail and gives him good news about how they will soon right the injustice; she encounters a setback, usually due to bureaucracy; she loses all hope; she finds the right person to browbeat or guilt and she overcomes the aforementioned setback. Wash, rinse, repeat. Again and again and again.

What saved this almostawe-inspiring tedium from forcing me to bash my head in on the back of the row of cinema seats in front of me was the film's superb acting. Swank does an excellent job of conveying her equine features into the three emotions of anger, sadness and elation that the script requires of her. Rockwell truly steals the show with an Oscar-worthy depiction of the tired and desperate convict, torn between his desire for freedom and what is best for his sister. When the two share the screen the film is almost interesting to watch if nothing else, to see two masters of the craft at work. Almost.

The directing and cinematography are also of note. The film depicts New England beautifully and transports the audience well into the setting. It also serves as an excellent juxtaposition to the grim and sanitized prison that comprises Kenny's world. In one scene, Betty's friend Abra Rice (Minnie Driver of Grosse Point Blank) brings up the possibility of Kenny being guilty during dinner at the Waters' house. Director Tony Goldwyn brings the tension to an almost unbearable fever pitch of excitement by turning up the sound levels of the mastication. Yet, the resolution of the scene was as mundane as it was predictable and was one of the film's greater disappointments.

Truly the saddest thing about Conviction is how it comes so close to being a good film. The film is technically sound in both acting and cinematography, and some moments truly stand out. Yet, without a quality script and general feeling for life, the film had me looking impatiently at my watch waiting for a movie as wonderfully executed and polished as it is boring.

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