Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Films based on actual events have pluses and minuses. The minus is that they tend to over dramatize the story they are trying to tell. The plus is that more often than not you’re given a glimpse into an amazing story. The thing I’ve noticed with most is that the plus almost always outweighs the minus, especially since most of us are privy to the reality that was.
CONVICTION is based on the real story of Betty Anne Water (played by Hillary Swank) and her brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell). Coming from a dysfunctional background with a mother who had numerous husbands and worked to the point she rarely had time for her children, we learn their story in flashbacks while the main issue is told in a straightforward manner. That story revolves around Kenny’s arrest and conviction for the murder of an elderly woman in their town and Betty’s attempt to free him for being unjustly convicted.
The film opens with Kenny being picked up for questioning that he tries to laugh off. Sis comes down to pick him up when he’s released and he jokes with her as well. The two are well known with the police since they were always in minor trouble when children. Kenny continued having problems but never enough to do prison time.
We’re presented with glimpses of their lives, how both were married and how Kenny was dedicated to his daughter. But that changes when a few months after his initial questioning while attending his grandfather’s funeral, the police show and arrest him. Charged with the murder, Kenny doesn’t see how he can be convicted. But testimony of two scorned women leads to a guilty decision, a move that will affect Kenny and Betty.
With little or no money on hand to get a well groomed lawyer, Betty decides to go to school and get a law degree herself so that she can represent Kenny. It’s slow going but she trudges through it, making a friend (Minnie Driver) in the process but almost losing her children after a divorce brought on by her obsession to see her brother free. Betty is convinced of his innocence while no one else believes.
To tell whether she gets her degree or not would spoil one of the mysteries presented here. Along the way Betty also gets help from a New York lawyer who specializes in unjustly convicted individuals cases. Barry Sheck (Peter Gallagher) agrees to help her, but the case will take months unless she gets her degree and can find evidence on her own. To save her brother, Betty must get her degree at all costs and then locate and find a way to use the evidence from so long ago that will help prove his innocence.
All of this takes more than two decades for her to do, but Betty never waivers. Her love for her brother is strong enough for her to do what she has to to get him released. Both she and Kenny have moments when they begin to fall, but both come back fighting.
The word conviction is not meant just for the fact that Kenny was imprisoned. It also has a twofold meaning for Betty as well. First, her conviction that her brother was innocent and that she would do anything to prove this point. And secondly was her own imprisonment with her attempt to prove this point. Sacrificing her own chance at a different life, at times her own children, as she dedicates herself to his release becomes part of the story as well.
The performances in this film are amazing. Swank does a stand up job as Betty, showing both her beaten down and resilient sides in a manner that is more than anything believable. But while her performance is quite good it is Rockwell that is a sight to behold. From goofy town troublemaker to depressed prisoner, he brings off the right degree of emotion from beginning to end.
Director Tony Goldwyn struggled for years to get this movie made one he heard the story. In the extras on the DVD he interviews the real Betty Anne Waters so viewers get the chance to see her as well. Sadly, Kenny was killed in a car accident shortly after his release. It’s nice to see that Goldwyn was able to bring this tale to the world so everyone could see the amazing story of a woman who went through so much because she believed in and loved her brother. Would that we could all make such a claim.
I’ve always been a fan of Woody Allen’s films. Many funny, some serious, one thing that can be said is that they are always original and that his characters have some brilliant dialogue to offer. But not all of his films are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I’ll be up front here and state that I like movies I watch to be entire stories. I want a beginning, a middle and an end. For me I want the whole shebang. Unfortunately this film doesn’t offer that and because of that by the credits I felt that I had been gypped, that I’d just spent and hour and a half waiting for a story only to discover that it has no end.
The tale revolves around several couples and their love lives. Helena Shebritch (Gemma Jones) has recently been dumped by her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) after many years together. Alfie was having a late midlife crisis, fearing he was getting old and seeing that in Helena.
Their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is married to Roy Channing (Josh Brolin), a man who received his degree in medicine only to toss it aside to become a writer. After a well received first novel, Roy has had little luck with subsequent stories and is currently trying to finish his fourth.
But Roy is distracted by the new neighbor across the way from their apartment, a young woman named Dia (Freida Pinto). As his infatuation develops, the arguments with his wife increase as well. Then again since the two of them are living on money supplied by her mother, things naturally fall apart.
Sally takes a job at an art gallery to help pay the bills. Her employer Greg (Antonio Banderas) appreciates the work she does for him and realizes she has an exceptional eye when it comes to discovering new artists. The possibility of a romance creeps at the edges of their scenes together and we, the viewers, wait to see if she will follow in the footsteps of nearly everyone else in the film that seem to fall in love at the drop of a hat.
Alfie also has a new woman in his life. Sure she’s half his age, but he sees it as true love. After only two months together he announces his intention marry her. What he doesn’t announce is that she was a call girl he fell in love with. But with the help of modern medicine he hopes to have the son he always wanted.
Back to Helena. From the start she spends time with a psychic she puts all of her faith in, Cristal (Pauline Collins). While those around her see Cristal as just a con artist trying to take Helena for as much as she can, Helena sees her as a spiritual guide who predicts all that happens to everyone else. She even helps her to find a new love herself.
Are you with me here? This story is not as convoluted as you might think. The back and forth dialogue and story never get boring. The film is well made and entertaining in various ways. As a cautionary tale, it works. At other times as the lives of the characters unfold, it’s like watching a train wreck. Through it all the characters seem quite real. But is there no person in this world happy with marriage?
As I said, the major problem I had with this film was the ending. Actually I don’t even know if you could call it an ending. Marriages, divorces, problems with future plans and more happen but as I said by the time the credits roll only one set of characters have come to any sort of conclusion. The rest are in limbo leaving you wondering just what happened when the screen went to black.
Allen has been a big fan of foreign films, mostly those of Ingmar Bergman. His more serious films have always had that sort of tint to them. While ending a film without letting the viewer in on what happens to the characters might be an artistic leap, it left me feeling as though I’d been cheated out of a story. For those who don’t mind films that just seem to stop, there is a good chance you’ll find more to like here than I did.