Conviction’s one word title is presented with little ceremony, but it’s a single word that has multiple meanings in this heart felt drama.
A fade in and out opening sequence unflinchingly surveys a bloodied murder scene to reveal a butchered body. Fading back out and then onto a contrasting collage of family objects of Kenny’s (Sam Rockwell) prison cell; It’s a brilliant opening that takes us right to the heart of the story as loyal sister Betty (Hilary Swank) begins her battle to prove her brother’s innocence; so much so, that she sacrifices plenty to put herself through law school to learn the system she deeply mistrusts to exonerate her brother.
Conviction means so much in this movie, the questioning of the law and justice, Kenny’s unsteady sentence, Betty’s stubborn conviction in her brother’s innocence and Kenny’s conviction and faith in his sister to prevail.
A by the numbers, based on a true story tale is elevated beyond the average law drama with solid performances all round. The decades spanning, backward and forth time shifting storytelling, recounts a childhood of ill parenting and tells the chequered past of Rockwell’s charming, but volatile defendant with a history of small time misdemeanours that equally convince of his innocence as well as the capability of perpetrating a such a crime with time, when given clemency from an adoring family and the small town law.
As events move on we question Betty’s belief as misplaced, given her love for her brother when without a respectable adult figure, her only protector in a feral upbringing as a struggling mother, well intentioned, is remiss in her duties.
The question of swift and rough provincial justice is raised when Rockwell faces ex partners in court whose testimonies are taken as solid evidence of his guilt and based on apparently nothing more than the small town troublesome rogue being the most likely perpetrator.
With Rockwell’s superb, ambiguous performance and tight scripting revealing nothing concrete about his guilt at any point until the conclusion, Conviction expertly raises the doubts in our own heads of did he or didn’t he; It’s the question that suspends most and keeps Conviction compelling right until the end.
Swank convinces as always with an astute performance even when pacing is bogged down by Betty’s repeated frustrations, but just like the loyal sister she is the tie that binds, admirable in her battle through school and against bureaucracy when juggling the demands of her own family that she is slowly losing sight of in her obsession and faith to still fight.