Monday, May 30, 2011

Conviction: True story of the fight to free a wrongly-convicted man

Conviction (drama, biography)
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver and Melissa Leo

20th Century Fox | 2010 | 102 min | Rated R | Released Feb 01, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, Spanish

Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 3.5/5

Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Swank) and her 18-year fight to free her brother Kenny (Rockwell), who was convicted of murder. She was a young woman with two children, working in a bar at the time of Kenny’s conviction. Instead of accepting it, she decided to study law part-time so that she could access evidence and fight the case on his behalf.

The story is told with the use of a few flashbacks. The first shows us how Kenny is arrested by police officer Nancy Taylor (Leo), while others show us the relationship between Kenny and Betty Anne when they were small children. Kenny is originally cleared of suspicion, but is arrested a second time two years later. After a series of damning testimonies, he receives a life sentence.

Both siblings struggle to adjust. Kenny tries to commit suicide in prison and Betty Anne almost flunks her class. She splits with her boyfriend and is dismayed when her two boys ask to live with their father because she doesn’t spend enough time with them. Imagine having to give up your children in that way. Her decision to help her brother consumed her.

Betty Anne is given new hope when she learns in school that DNA testing has freed other wrongly-convicted prisoners. She passes her exam and qualifies as a lawyer, enlisting the help of classmate Abra Rice (Driver) and a group specializing in freeing prisoners with the help of DNA evidence.

One of the biggest problems she faces is tracking down evidence that is so old. She eventually discovers some disturbing facts about the case and fights to reveal the truth. Kenny is powerless to help, but Betty Anne gives him the courage to go on with his life. She’s his inspiration.

The main theme of the story is the love between a brother and sister and how it impacts each of their lives. It’s an inspirational tale and Swank and Rockwell nail their roles. While all the ingredients are there to make a moving drama, something doesn’t quite work.

Betty Anne sacrifices so much and we should feel elated when she achieves her goal, but the setup was lacking and I wasn’t completely drawn in. Maybe it’s that we are never totally sure that Kenny is innocent? Or perhaps it’s because all the childhood flashbacks involve scenes in which the siblings are breaking the law in some small way? Maybe it’s because Swank and Rockwell are so good in other roles that I had unrealistic expectations?

Video Quality 4.5/5
The film looks great. Detail is sharp throughout and I couldn’t detect any obvious problem with the presentation. There isn’t a lot of beauty in the film as the settings were drab and grimy for the most part, but everything looks natural and real.

Audio Quality 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does everything it is supposed to. This is a story driven by dialogue and it comes across clearly in every scene. There’s nothing flashy and the rear channels are used sparingly, but the track is free of any blemishes.

Special Features 1/5
There’s just one feature included in the package and it only lasts 10 minutes. Director Tony Goldwyn talks to the real Betty Anne Waters. We learn how long it took for the film to be made and some of the problems encountered along the way. The feature includes a rather sobering fact: Kenny died in an accident just six months after being released.

This is a good film. It’s well-acted and easy to follow. There are some strong scenes, especially when Swank and Rockwell are on screen together. But it’s not a great film, and I can only recommend it as a rental.

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