' ' Cinema Romantico: Conviction

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


And another piece of The Hilary Swank Puzzle falls into place, and it has to do with The Hilary Swank Smile. It's not like The Milla Jovovich "Stone" Smile which just leaves you dizzy and it's not like The Angelina Jolie Smile which suggests oh so much bad-assery. No, The Hilary Swank Smile is warmer, gentler but also somehow sadder. Remember the smile she has in "Million Dollar Baby" in the car opposite Eastwood when she's giving that breathless monologue about her dad and their dog? It's wistful, just layers and layers and layers of wistfulness. The Hilary Swank Smile is all over "Conviction."

Early in the movie Swank, as the real life Betty Anne Waters, is at a townie bar with her husband and her delinquet but lovable brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) and Kenny has his daughter there, too, amidst the beer and cigarette smoke and loud music and so this guy, understandably, calls him out on it and so then Kenny drops his baby girl back off at the table and pounds on the guy and then they get broken up and then Kenny starts dancing again and then does a little striptease and as all this unfolds The Hilary Swank Smile mirrors the audience's feelings every step of the way.  "Yeah, he's trouble.  But he's my brother."

In 1980 the real life Kenny Waters was convicted for the gruesome murder of Katharina Brow. Wrongfully convicted. He was innocent. That's the thing - the movie never hides this fact. Even if a viewer did not know it going in, "Conviction" never tries to mislead you. Rather it is about how Betty Anne, a bartender, goes to law school simply so she can become her brother's lawyer and attempt to re-open the case and free him. She gains crucial assistance from The Friend Who Only Exists To Aid The Protagonist's Plight (Minnie Driver) and from saintly Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) but mostly it is about Betty Anne not taking guff from anyone and not taking it in the nicest way possible. She is determined, dedicated, though not unblemished. One of her two sons says something about how she has entirely given up her own life for the sake of her brother's and she says "You don't really think that, do you?" and then gets, yes, The Hilary Swank Smile. It tells us what we need to know.

Despite the film's narrative being basic and uninspired it is impressive for what we don't see. We don't see Betty Anne climbing in a window that has mysteriously been left unlocked to steal crucial files nor do we see The Passionate Speech To The Jury to conclude the third act and getting the shackles removed from Kenny's wrists. "No rhymes, no embellishments, no adjectives." Instead director Tony Goldwyn takes the keys to the car, hands them to Swank and says "Get us where we need to go."

Watching "P.S. I Love You" I had to wonder aloud regarding Hilary Swank "Why God?" but watching "Conviction" I had to thank God for Hilary Swank.


Andrew K. said...

Your effusive love/praise for Swank will never NOT freak me out a little, but your devotion is admirable.

(And you get extra points for using bad-assery in a sentence.)

Nick Prigge said...

My Hilary Swank thing really stems from "Million Dollar Baby", I guess. If a performance affects me like that then my self-diagnosed OCD kicks in and that's all she wrote.

Danny King said...

I really liked this performance as well. And I think Goldwyn's reliance on his actors is a sign of intelligence. He realizes that this is an inherently uplifting story and that he has two wonderful actors in the lead. He doesn't need to take a Fincher-like approach for the film to be successful.

Nick Prigge said...

You're totally right. Maybe Goldwyn has found his niche. Which would be cool because he's always seemed like a good guy.