2011-03-08 09:53
What it's about

The true story of a woman (played by Hilary Swank) who puts herself through law school in order to prove the innocence of her brother (Sam Rockwell) who is serving a life sentence for a murder that she believes he didn't commit.

What we thought

Conviction is based on the sort of extraordinary true story that not only begs to be adapted to film but is more or less foolproof. You would have to have a pretty inept group of filmmakers to screw up a story that is this good. And Tony Goldwyn and his cast and crew are anything but inept. Unfortunately, like last year's Milk, the story is so ideal, it's easy for filmmakers to be complacent and rely too much on the compelling source material. Goldwyn and company never quite manage to escape this trap.

The more  I think about it, the more I think Milk and Conviction are quite similar. Both are fronted by great performers doing some exemplary work, and are based on true stories that are both gripping and important. Yet, both of them are ultimately disappointing pieces of cinema. I'm all for stripped-down storytelling but Milk and Conviction are so stripped down, so reliant on the stories they're telling, that they become inert, even bland.

Worse, while Milk, despite its underwhelming filmmaking, was noticeably cinematic, Conviction simply isn't. Not that this is entirely surprising - Tony Goldwyn has been a very prolific director over the last decade -  it's just that 90% of his output has been for TV with the only notable exception being the truly abominable The Last Kiss in 2006. Unlike, say, any of the films that were nominated for best picture at this year's Oscars, Conviction has the look and feel more reminiscent of an episode of Law and Order, rather than something that belongs on the big screen.

Had this been released as a made-for-TV film or gone straight to DVD, I would have a lot less trouble recommending it. We have Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell living up to their usual high standard as two of the best actors of their generation. We also have a story of one woman's truly brave efforts to stand up against a noticeably flawed justice system for the life of someone she loves - and a story that happens to be true, at that.

I have little doubt that had I seen this on my small television set at home, these are the things that I would have noticed. On the big screen though, I could never get past the film's flaws.

An extraordinary true story, starring two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, that unfortunately comes off as slightly small scale.
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