Based on real events, Conviction tells the story of Betty Anne Waters (Swank), a mother of two and sister to Kenny (Rockwell) who is imprisoned for life without parole for murdering a old woman in her home. As tearaway kids, the pair had something of a reputation in their home town of Ayer, Massachusetts, and in particular Kenny, who claims he has been framed by local police officer Nancy Taylor (Leo). Devoted to her brother, Betty Anne believes absolutely in his innocence and vows to clear his name.
In many ways this is a typical miscarriage of justice courtroom drama, albeit with very little of taking place in court. For this is Betty Anne's story, her failing marriage and her struggle to support her children all the while educating herself through school and eventually becoming an attorney. Hilary Swank carries the responsibility of the lead role with her usual aplomb, mixing determination with emotional fragility often to the detriment of her only friend Abra (Driver) and her incredibly patient and long-suffering sons.
On the periphery of the action are Juliette Lewis as a former lover of Kenny and Melissa Leo, so good in last year's Frozen River. Both characters have pivotal roles but aren't in it enough, with Lewis wonderfully wacky and Leo stonily defiant of her actions. Meanwhile, Sam Rockwell swings between anger and acceptance in his role as could-be killer Kenny. Flashback sequences give an indication of his violent temper and injects some welcome doubt in Betty Anne's assertion of his innocence.
This is a vital ingredient because for all the great performances, in a matter of such great import, there's not a huge amount of tension or drama. So while it doesn't spoil the enjoyment of what is a well-constructed film, it does leave it short of being a classic. Solid without being spectacular, Conviction is good but not great.
EXTRAS ★★ A conversation with director Tony Goldwyn and Betty Anne Waters (10:18)