Sunday, February 13, 2011

Conviction (2010)


There is perhaps no medium better suited for the dramatization of real life triumphs than cinema. The compacting of human events into a series of preplanned exposition moments, all carefully designed to pull the right strings, aids in the transition of reality to superfluous idealizing. Cinema molds emotion out of anything, and can derive heroes out of everything. Yet in doing so, it walks a thin line. The line between dramatization and manipulation. Both occur at the same time, but in seasoned hands the audience's awareness of their overlap is null. Tony Goldwyn may be a fine actor, solid television director, and a rising film maker, but he is not without flaws.

2010's Conviction is just that kind of flaw. A movie which would merely be another Lifetime Real Women network film if it were not for the strength of its cast. The writing of Pamela Gray, whose filmography includes a teleplay and a couple forgotten '99 films, does nothing to support that notion either. Conviction is a film all about drama, each scene you could argue was lifted right out of a 'how to write an emotional journey film.' The character's motivations are explored with the sort of depth that gives shallow ponds a bad name.

All we really know about Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) is that she will do anything for her brother because they had a rough childhood. The rest is generally meaningless side drama that feels less like analysis on her character than narrative necessity. Things like the loss of a family, momentary depression afterward, and such felt more like vague rehashing of Flash of Genius (an equally forgettable, enjoyable, and Lifetime reject). I'm not bemoaning her accomplishment. It's that accomplishment that saves the movie. What I am bemoaning is the passive way in which this film handles it.

Conviction is less about the strength of character and will Waters must possess in order to do what she did, and more about a handful of witty and trying moments that popped up along the way. Waters suffers no discernible character flaw, minus trying to hard to do good for her brother and distancing herself from her children, but one quick line and a tear and the slate is clean.

The brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), is given a rather similar treatment. He's a misunderstood young man whose sad past more than makes up for anything he's done since then. Here he exists solely as the victim of society and police manipulation.

It is by that standard alone that I feel Juliette Lewis has managed to garner some award consideration. Her character, however brief, is one of the very few characters in the film portrayed as possessing more than a single note to beat away. Rockwell and Swank are great in their respective positions, but they lack the flash and raw emotion, flaws and strengths combined to make them engrossing. Their tale is appreciable and enjoyable for the reality and humanity of it, but not for what the film does with it. In the end Conviction is a fine tale of one person's exemplification of the titular trait, but lacks the desire to reach for more. It tries too hard to victimize, and in the process forgets to humanize those it endears so much.

4 better thoughts:

Candice Frederick said...

i definitely agree that this could have been a pretty good lifetime movie. for the big screen, it was just not gripping. juliette is great in her two scenes, but theyre very brief. i wasn't very impressed with sam rockwell here. i think he's been better in other roles.

Univarn said...

@Candice In fairness, I don't think Rockwell was given a whole lot to do with his character. Mostly just act goofy, complain, then go 'yay' a few times then back to moping.

Fletch said...

I disagree on Rockwell. The story is too flat and unsurprising to really get our attention, but I found him a compelling self-destructive character and thought Rockwell was fantastic. Kind of a shame that it's in such a stock performance. The coda was depressing as hell, too.

Univarn said...

@Fletch I think Rockwell did great with what he had, but he was fully relegated to a repetitive routine. I wish they had spent more time on his characters emotional turmoil and the intermittent stuff in prison while he waited for her to get her law degree.

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