“I'm sorry you wasted your life on this. Your brother killed that woman.”
Inspired by a remarkable true story in which a sister practically gives up almost two decades of her life in order to save her brother who has been convicted of murder and has been sentenced to life in prison. It’s an amazing and inspirational story, but unfortunately the film suffers from being overly manipulative at times and too conventional. Conviction has Oscar bait written all over it, and despite having a heavy clichéd script the excellent cast elevate the film and make it worth recommending. Many people remember Tony Goldwyn from his villainous role in Ghost, but he has also directed a couple of rom-coms. This is the first time he directs a fully dramatic film and it suffers from being overly sentimental at times (the score is way too melodramatic).
The film is saved however by its excellent cast. Hillary Swank is amazing as this working mother who decides to put her personal aspirations aside to help save her imprisoned brother. In order to do so she decides to finish High School and go through law school. Not an easy task considering Betty Anne has two children to maintain. Sam Rockwell plays Betty’s brother, Kenny, who was arrested in 1983 for a brutal murder. Betty and Kenny had been very close since they were young because their mother was constantly working so we get several flashbacks of them spending their childhood days breaking into nearby homes and dreaming of a better life. This always got Kenny into trouble with the local authorities. Years later, when a woman was found brutally murdered in a trailer near to Kenny’s place he was the first suspect. After some incriminating evidence against him he is sentenced and that is when her loving sister decides to dedicate her life to free him. The degree of devotion she has for her brother is unprecedented and truly inspirational.
The question one asks throughout the film is how far Betty is willing to go to help her brother considering it has led her to lose her husband and any attempt to have a life of her own. It has even affected her relationship with her two children, played by Owen Campbell and Conor Donovan, who feel neglected at times. There isn’t one second in which she questions what she is doing and takes it more as a responsibility and a debt she has for her brother. Swank gives a powerful performance and her devotion to Kenny is completely believable. Rockwell is also great as Kenny in both the prison scenes and in some of the flashback scenes where we see some of his wild behavior. He plays his character extremely well, up to the point where you are never really sure wether or not this guy is guilty for the crime he has committed. The only person who seems convinced about his innocence is his sister and that made the film all the more compelling.
Minnie Driver plays Abra Rice, one of the law students who befriends Betty and helps her on the case. Her relationship with Betty could’ve been explored a bit better, but the entire focus of the film was on Betty’s devotion and effort to try to free her brother so she is only introduced as this friend who helped with the case. The family dynamics between Betty and her children and between her and her ex husband is barely touched upon because the filmmaker’s devotion was focused on the relationship between the two siblings. It didn’t hurt that they were played by Rockwell and Swank, two extremely talented actors. I’m a huge fan of Sam Rockwell and I could personally watch anything he does so I might be a bit biased but their relationship in this film is what sold this movie. Melissa Leo has some small scenes in the film, but her presence is always welcomed. The film has its flaws and at times the pacing of the film does begin to drag and feel repetitive, but the performances more than make up for it at the end.