All throughout junior high and high school I found myself immersed in the world of John Grisham. While his movies never enticed this teenager into a local multiplex, I did read at least six of his early novels before realizing that they were all essentially the same. For years, it also piqued my interest into becoming a lawyer. While that really never panned out, I still enjoy great legal films and novels. The Paul Levine Solomon vs. Lord series also offers some great reading even if focused more on the screwball angle.
While all of the above-mentioned may be fiction, sometimes it’s the truth that can lead to even more rewarding filmmaking. In Conviction, director Tony Goldwyn takes a compelling script from Pamela Gray, throws in some tremendous acting and churns out his best film yet. Although he'd only directed only three feature films prior to this one (A Walk on the Moon, Someone Like You…, The Last Kiss), he’s been heavily involved in television. Having done episodes in series including Dexter (one of the best shows on right now), Justified, Damages, Kidnapped, Law & Order and Without a Trace, directing a movie like Conviction makes sense.
Conviction concerns the true story of a 1980 murder; Katharina Brow had been stabbed 30 times and her head literally beaten to a pulp. All eyes immediately set upon Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), as he's had a long, sordid history with the police. Although Kenny is originally found innocent, two years later he’s back on trial, and this time he's found guilty, sentenced to life without parole.
Now Kenny’s sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) will spend what seems like the rest of her life proving Kenny’s innocence, including attending law school and passing the Bar Exam. But it's not until the possibility of DNA testing comes along that Betty Anne can bring the family long-overdue justice. Not to say that she doesn't seek out a little help from a fellow lawyer friend, Abra Rice (Minnie Driver) and hot-shot lawyer, Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) of the Innocence Project.
While sometimes the handheld camera style gets a little distracting in the home-front parts of the story, director Goldwyn never lets things fall into the melodramatics of television and keeps things at a more personal level. This is particularly helpful in the relationship of Kenny and Betty Anne. You always believe they are siblings, and this is helped even more so through the use of flashbacks. The best of these shows them boxing in the family barn where Betty Anne (Bailee Madison) KO’s Kenny (Tobias Campbell); in another we see them breaking and entering into people’s homes, eating all their candy, and passing out in a sugary daydream living a better life vicariously through their escapades.