Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 107 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Review Date: February 3, 2011
True stories about the legal system being brought to answer for its own mistakes are often fodder for some of cinema’s most powerful stories. Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction is the latest in a long line of films which put our faith in our justice system to the test by dragging us through a long series of excruciating and frustrating challenges before gaining some degree of satisfaction for the wronged and, of course, for us the audience. It’s a fine film with excellent performances, and it works its tear-jerking magic on us just as expected. The kinds of love and sacrifice exhibited in this movie are surefire hooks for an audience if they’re in the right hands. With Conviction, they are for the most part.
Inseparable from childhood, siblings Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) and Kenny (Sam Rockwell ) Waters are used to having each other’s backs since their erratic mother (Karen Young) is often too wasted to care for them properly thus sending them into the foster care system on more than one occasion. They’re blue collar Massachusetts kids whose uninhibited childhood makes them well known to the law officers of their town and as adults are also known to get into a scrape or two. When Katharine Brow is discovered with thirty stab wounds on her, Kenny is suspected of the crime, and two years later on some suspiciously garnered evidence, he’s arrested for murder and found guilty being given a life sentence with no possibility of parole. With no money to hire a good lawyer after her brother’s appeals run out, Betty Anne determines to go to college and then law school herself so she can represent her brother legally and try to find a way to get him out of prison. Her determination costs her her marriage but nothing will stand in the way of ferreting out the truth of her brother’s innocence of which she is fully convinced.
Betty Anne’s commitment to her brother at the expense of everything else in her life is a true story, and as written by Pamela Gray, the scenes of the two siblings together as adults form the core of the film and its most dramatically adept sequences. Flashbacks inserted at odd moments through the film detail select wild child experiences as the youthful duo bounce in and out of trouble and continually take up for one another, but the original trial and Kenny’s subsequent appeals are much too abbreviated for comfort, not allowing us to see falsified testimony completely or some of the other circumstantial evidence which convicted Kenny of this terrible crime. (The case has never been solved.) Additionally, though director Goldwyn gets marvelous performances from all of his actors, he and his screenwriter stumble by not showing us what might have been the film’s most potentially suspenseful scene: the final search for the trial’s evidence which had earlier been thought discarded ten years after the trial. It’s the kind of surefire tension-twister that someone like Sidney Lumet (in The Verdict) or Stephen Soderbergh (in Erin Brockovich) would never have omitted from their own legal-themed enterprises.
Hiliary Swank and Sam Rockwell make completely convincing scrappy siblings, each short-tempered but with fierce love and devotion to one other and to their loved ones. It’s the best work either has done in a long while, especially Rockwell. Minnie Driver, affecting the same Massachusetts accent that the leads sport, makes a terrific fellow law student and best friend for Swank. Juliette Lewis is a deliciously trashy ex-girl friend of Rockwell’s, one who holds some key cards in the pursuit of the truth in the case. Melissa Leo scores another home run as the smug police officer Nancy Taylor whose misguided sense of justice gets sidetracked in her enthusiasm for a conviction. Conor Donovan and Owen Campbell do well as Swank’s kids while Peter Gallagher seems just the slightest bit lacking as the “star” lawyer whose mission is to free innocents from wrongful convictions.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is encoded at 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness except for a few scenes is exemplary, and color saturation and flesh tones are terrific. With the film being so recent, there are no problems with age related artifacts like scratches or dirt, and no edge enhancement has been applied to artificially sharpen the image. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has only the slightest bit of surround activity present. Paul Cantelon’s score gets a nice placement around the soundfield (though more in the fronts than the rears), but you aren’t going to hear much activity in the rear channels or the LFE for this title. Dialogue is by far the film’s most essential element, and it has been crisply recorded and placed distinctly into the center channel.
“Conviction: A Conversation with Tony Goldwyn and Betty Anne Waters” finds the director and the real-life focus of the film talking about her life and his introduction to her story and his years of struggle to get the movie made. The 10 ¼-minute featurette is presented in 1080p.
The disc contains 1080p promotional trailers for Never Let Me Go, Black Swan, 127 Hours, and Cyrus. Curiously, the trailer for Conviction is not presented here though it can be found on other recent Fox Blu-ray releases.
3.5/5 (not an average)
An entertaining real-life story of struggle and survival comes to Blu-ray in Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction. Despite some lapses in storytelling, the film will grip you emotionally and is well worth a rental.