Conviction – Best I’ve seen this year

Review of Conviction written by Pamela Gray and directed by Tony Goldwyn
Rating *****

Conviction PosterThere are so many wrongful conviction stories to tell, how do you decide which one to bring to the big screen? They’re all compelling. There are so many of them since DNA testing began that it’s almost becoming routine. Someone is freed from prison after serving decades. Today it’s almost like hearing about another shooting on the local news.

What makes this story worthy of a big screen treatment is the remarkable story of the wrongfully convicted man’s sister who earns a law degree in an effort to free him.

I write a lot about wrongful convictions. So much so that I occasionally hear from supporters of the wrongfully convicted wanting me to write about their stories. Part of my fascination with these stories is that I know what it’s like to be railroaded. To be falsely accused. To put your future in the hands of others who are indifferent, lazy, and outright incompetent. But enough about me.

This film succeeds on every level. Hilary Swank gives an Oscar worthy performance. It’s the same type of role that worked for Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock. The characters are portrayed as three-dimensional people, flaws and all.

The family of the murdered victim apparently complained that they weren’t consulted for the film. And I can understand their concerns. But a film has roughly two hours to tell a story. This particular film condenses nearly thirty years into two hours. The filmmakers weren’t ignoring the family, they simply had to make a choice about what the focus of the story was going to be. The actual crime was not the focus.

I thought that the writer, director, and editor did a fantastic job of weaving together a complex story that doesn’t follow a linear path. They could have done a Dateline or 48 Hours version, but then you wouldn’t have gotten the background. You wouldn’t have understood the motivation.

I’m old enough and mature enough to know that life isn’t always fair. But I also know that life has a way of handling inequities. The people responsible for putting Kenneth Waters in prison got their payback. That’s how it works. You do someone wrong and eventually you’ll find yourself holding the short end of the stick.

This film cost just 12.5 million to make. I’ll take a movie like this over all the 100 million dollar plus super hero trash that Hollywood constantly shoves down our throats.

One final note: After I saw the film I went online to find out more about the real Betty Anne and Ken Waters. That’s when I learned how the story really ended. I won’t spoil it for you here for the same reason that the filmmakers chose not to reveal what happened after Ken’s release. Suffice it to say that it put a damper on the whole beating the system vibe the film has.

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