Magazine article The Christian Century

Conviction

Magazine article The Christian Century

Conviction

Article excerpt

Conviction

Directed by Tony Goldwyn

Starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell

Secretariat

Directed by Randall Wallace

Starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich

Two of this season's movies, both based on true stories, remind us of the underrated pleasures of conventional filmmaking. Conviction, an account of how Betty Anne Waters sprang her wrongly imprisoned brother Kenny, and Secretariat, the tale of the legendary racehorse, are the most engrossing and emotionally engaging of the recent crop of releases.

In Conviction, director Tony Goldwyn and a seasoned cast bring a wealth of character detail to Pamela Gray's effective screenplay. Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is sent to jail for murder on the testimony of two ex-girlfriends with axes to grind. (They've both seen his capacity for violence.)

Betty Anne (Hilary Swank), the only person who understands him well enough to know that he isn't capable of murder, takes sisterly devotion to an extreme level when she puts herself through law school while raising three kids in order to work toward getting his conviction reversed. The story is melodrama--it recalls the 1954 Douglas Sirk weepie Magnificent Obsession, in which Rock Hudson goes to medical school so he can operate on Jane Wyman and restore her lost sight--but Goldwyn conveys it in a grounded realist style.

Swank has made too many of these triumph-of-the-spirit pictures; she gives a perfectly competent performance, but you've seen it before. Four women in the supporting cast provide much of the emotional variety that keeps the film in your head afterward. Minnie Driver gives a good-humored, hard-boiled performance as Betty Anne's law school pal. Karen Young plays Kenny and Betty Anne's embattled, inconsistent mother, who moved them in and out of foster homes. The film's most shocking moment is her casual judgment that she was always afraid Kenny would wind up with a murder rap someday.

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When you juxtapose Kenny's mother's cavalier attitude with the willingness of two women to perjure themselves to send him away, you marvel that justice finally gets served. Clea DuVall plays Brenda Mark, whose false testimony is the consequence of a devil's bargain she struck with an unprincipled cop, and Juliette Lewis is Roseanna Perry, whose behavior reflects equal parts narcissism, terror and stupidity. …

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