Conviction is as straightforward as storytelling gets in a movie. Will that be its undoing with critics?
Indeed, Conviction is one of several films this fall (others include Secretariat, which just opened, and Made in Dagenham, which is coming in November) that rely on the classic model of underdog drama -- and are based on true stories. There's no equivocation here; you know who you're supposed to be rooting for right from the beginning. And the movie tells the story from start to finish, without pausing to show off the director's stylistic chops at the expense of the film.
Linear plots -- what a concept.
Yet there currently is an arm of film criticism that disdains exactly that: movies that tell a story from start to finish, about characters who are human, identifiable and even (perhaps especially) likable. You can throw a stone at any press screening in Manhattan (or any of a number of urban centers) and hit more than one critic for whom that description is their idea of a movie that is stodgy, old-fashioned and not worth their time.
I'm not saying that all films that follow this formula are worthwhile; God knows I see enough of them that should never have escaped the realm of the Lifetime and Hallmark networks. But what I am saying is that those attributes -- likable characters, linear storytelling, underdog plot -- don't automatically disqualify a movie from being interesting.
I'll admit that I resisted Conviction. Its blue-collar characters seem too easily obstructed, too often the target of dirty doings.
And yet this film by Tony Goldwyn, from a script by Pamela Gray, gets under your skin and ultimately proves itself worth your attention. The fact that it's based on a true story gives it even more power (especially if you recognize a name that comes into play at the end of the film: Martha Coakley, who managed to lose Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to Tea Party candidate Scott Brown).
Hilary Swank plays Betty Ann Waters, first seen waiting tables in a bar and struggling in law school. Spotted by a classmate named Abra (Minnie Driver), she gives up her story.