Film & TV

Hilary Swank Excels Again in Biopic About Overturning a "Conviction"

After Fox Searchlight's Amelia spectacularly flamed out last October, the studio tries again to grab awards-season honors with another biopic starring and executive-produced by Hilary Swank. As Conviction's Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts high school dropout and single mom who put herself through law school to exonerate her brother, Kenny, wrongfully convicted of murder, Swank dutifully returns to the working class, the caste of her past Oscar glory for Boys Don't Cry (1999) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Conviction skips over most of the specifics of Waters' extraordinary accomplishment — the GED is mentioned in one scene, and she's practically sharpening pencils for the bar exam in the next — to insert superfluous heart-tugging childhood flashbacks and establish the origins of the unbreakable sibling bond. Arrested by a crooked lady cop (Melissa Leo) for the grisly murder of a neighboring woman, adult hell-raiser Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is sent to the clink for life — and Rockwell to actors' detention camp, forced into the standard staginess of prison-visit scenes with Swank. "I will never accept it!" Betty Anne declares, devoting the next 18 years to proving her brother's innocence. Instead of looking closely at Waters' enormous sacrifices, Conviction presents its heroine as a construct of uncomplicated altruism. She is, in other words, the perfect role for Swank, whose robotic eagerness to please, to perfect regional accents, to play up big emotions, and to collect statuettes has made her the Stepford Wife of the fall-movie season.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.