Yes, I know that everyone will look at the poster for this film, read the plotline, see Hillary Swank’s name at the top of the cast and mumble to themselves, “Great, another Oscar bait flick based on a true story.” This would be true. Just don’t be surprised if it isn’t Sam Rockwell finally getting nominated for a performance for this film.
“Conviction” is the story of the Waters’ clan, a Massachusetts redneck family that have been raising hell in their small town for years. When Kenny “Muddy” Waters (Rockwell) is brought in for questioning on a vicious murder, he opens his mouth one too many times to the cop that brings him in (Melissa Leo in a great supporting turn). Two years later, Kenny is arrested during his father’s funeral for the old murder charge. During the trial, Kenny’s ex-wife and girlfriend both swear under oath that he boasted in front of them about committing the murder. One swift jury vote later and Kenny is off to serve life in prison.
Now, films based in fact are always in danger of falling into the same rhythm. A few years back when “Ray” and “Walk the Line” were released you could pick up the plot line easily: “Okay, we need him to suffer a setback as a child at the 5 minute mark, have someone die at the 8, have his first big hit at 20 minutes, drugs at 40…” With a film like this, where Hillary Swank’s character (Betty Anne Waters) casually mentions to her husband, “Hey, I was thinking, I would like to get my GED and if that works out maybe try to take some night courses and in the long run get my brother out of prison,” you have this guy, who had been perfectly nice up until now suddenly turn into Stone Cold Billy Ray and start yelling, “Nuh uh! This has gone on long enuf! Now make me a pie!” Just like how every child in the 60s has to be a hippie, and anytime an adult does something one of their kids has to say, “I’m proud of you,” this is a movie cliche I could do without.
Director Tony Goldwyn (the villain from “Ghost”) has a talented cast of professionals that don’t attempt to chew scenery. In a just world Minnie Driver would actually line up a few jobs off of her work in this film, but then you check her IMDB page and it seems that her steadiest paychecks come from guest TV roles. While this is Swank’s movie, Rockwell’s charisma definitely kicks the tempo up a few notches whenever he’s onscreen.
At the end of the day, one of the only things you can really ask this kind of film is that it not waste your time and that you feel like you have went on a journey with the characters. At the end of Kenny’s prison stay, you truly feel like you have watched 18 years of this family’s life pass by. Don’t wait for the DVD.