Review: Conviction

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There are many things that there are a thin line between in this world, as the fact that using that phrase is so cliché should make readily evident. However, one of the things that there is not such a thin line between is drama and melodrama. No, going from drama to melodrama is less like stepping over a thin line and more like jumping over the Grand Canyon — and not quite making it. The difference between melodrama and drama is what separates most fair on the big screen from most fair on the Hallmark Channel. Unfortunately, some films escape from the Hallmark Channel and make their way to the big screen. Conviction is one of those films.

It may not be entirely its own fault, though. Its story is ripe for melodrama, following the true story of Betty Anne Walters (Hillary Swank), who put herself through college and law school in order to become a lawyer and defend her brother, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), against charges of murder. She does all of this while running a bar and parenting two boys, of course. It’s a story ripe for, well, Lifetime or cable television. However, it made it to the big…

There are many things that there are a thin line between in this world, as the fact that using that phrase is so cliché should make readily evident. However, one of the things that there is not such a thin line between is drama and melodrama. No, going from drama to melodrama is less like stepping over a thin line and more like jumping over the Grand Canyon — and not quite making it. The difference between melodrama and drama is what separates most fair on the big screen from most fair on the Hallmark Channel. Unfortunately, some films escape from the Hallmark Channel and make their way to the big screen. Conviction is one of those films.

It may not be entirely its own fault, though. Its story is ripe for melodrama, following the true story of Betty Anne Walters (Hillary Swank), who put herself through college and law school in order to become a lawyer and defend her brother, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), against charges of murder. She does all of this while running a bar and parenting two boys, of course. It’s a story ripe for, well, Lifetime or cable television. However, it made it to the big screen with two big stars, and yet it can’t escape the fact that it’s a story far better suited for a smaller screen.

Thos two big actors, Swank and Rockwell, do their best to pull it out of the over-emotional pap and into something that deserves to be on a bigger screen. Swank’s Betty Anne is somber and earnest, though her serious side and accent seem a little put on. There’s a feeling that she’s really grasping for the role at points instead of actually being in her character. Thankfully, the other half of the film’s duo, Rockwell, is as solid as a rock. His performance as the quick to anger Kenny is both striking and powerful – and unfortunately stuck in a film that feels far too small for the performance it contains.

What makes it so small? Almost everything else in the film. Director Tony Goldwyn’s jump to the big screen shows that he wasn’t really ready for it. Everything scene feels either rush or compacted, like he was making them to fit in between ad breaks and a certain time. It doesn’t ruin the story or anything so hideous, but it doesn’t help it move out of melodrama into real drama in any way. The guiltiest parties in the film are flashbacks to the Walters sibling’s past, which never connect enough with the present day. It’s all a little standard to ever really get connected to the characters.

I couldn’t think of a movie better for renting, except for a film that you’d actually want to watch. That’s the other problem with Conviction; even if it was released as a TV movie, it wouldn’t be something that truly grabbed your attention. It’s a truly interesting story and one that could inspire you, but you see those all the time on TV so paying for it in a theater just seems ridiculous when nothing more is offered up. Even renting it seems a bit suspect as the pull to hear the story gets lost when you realize how melodramatic it has become. So, while not terrible, Conviction is far from anything you’d actively go out (or stay in) to see.

Overall Score: 5.00 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)

Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.