Review: “Conviction” Shows Swank's Formula Getting Tired

Hollywood is all about exploiting formulas…

Mix one studly, free-wheelin' ladies man with an uptight but attractive feminist more interested in her career than her libido and watch the antics ensue.

Combine equal parts sci-fi and action/adventure—and film it in 3D.

Put an American actress in a corset, ensure she perfects an English accent and hand her a script adapted from the 19th century just in time for award season.

Over the years, the Hilary Swank Formula has become all too predictable. Mix 2 parts tearjerker with 1 part against-all-odds-heroine, add a dash of spunk and a sprinkle of tragedy and you've got your next vehicle for the two-time Oscar winner.

Her latest film, "Conviction," is no exception to that blueprint. 

The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Swank), an unemployed single mother who spent 18 years putting herself through high school, then college, and finally law school so she could represent her brother, Kenneth (Sam Rockwell), after he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

It's a remarkable story that falls on the harrowing side of inspirational, but, as a film, it never fully takes wing, despite fantastic performances by the supporting cast.

Director Tony Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray, who previously worked together on "A Walk on the Moon," find themselves lost somewhere between a courtroom drama unfolding at a lethargic pace and a biopic in the vein of "Erin Brockovich."

Ultimately, hinging the drama on Swank is where the movie falters in the first place. It's Rockwell, as a man with charisma and hair trigger rage to spare, at the film's gravitational center. Despite a lack of screen time and an uncanny resemblance to Jesse James after too many years in the hooskow, perhaps this will be the role that finally earns Rockwell the widespread acclaim and attention he deserves, something we hoped would have followed his inspired performance in last year's outstanding film, "Moon."  

Minnie Driver, who's been largely off the radar since her meteoric rise in 1990s films like "Circle of Friends" and "Good Will Hunting," is superb in the unassuming role of Betty Anne's smart mouthed best friend and fellow lawyer but it's Juliette Lewis, who occupies less than ten total minutes on screen, who steals the show in a shattering, brief cameo that shows more character development and range than Swank demonstrates in two showy hours onscreen.

Doing her best to make scrunchies, a thick (often shaky) Massachusetts accent and mom jeans look like they suit her, Swank's turn as Waters is excruciatingly earnest, occasionally verging on shrill. You want to whisper up at the screen, "Pssst, Hilary, your acting is showing." 

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