Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

[Oscars 2013] – Predicting The Nominations

9 Jan

An actual Oscar statuette to be presented during the 79th Annual Academy Awards sits in a display case in Hollywood

I still have a few 2013 releases to catch up with, and I though I wanted to make my Oscar nominations predictions post having seen all of them, the nods are due early tomorrow morning so I’ll have to post them now.

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[Review] – The Impossible

4 Jan

The Impossible

Title: The Impossible
Year: 2012
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez, based on a story by María Belón
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity
Runtime: 114 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 73

The Indian Ocean tsunami from December 2004 is one of the deadliest natural disasters the world has experienced, caused by the third largest earthquake ever recorded. The numbers speak for themselves: over 230’000 people dead in 14 countries, waves that were up to 30 meters high, an earthquake that lasted for nearly 10 minutes and that triggered other seismic movements as far away as Alaska, $14 billion donated in humanitarian aid. We know those facts, but what’s most amazing about that event are the human stories at the center of it, and in The Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona‘s new film, one of the most inspiring ones is front and center.

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J. Edgar

13 Dec

Title: J. Edgar
Year: 2011
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Donovan, Ed Westwick, Stephen Root, Denis O’Hare
MPAA Rating: R, brief strong language
Runtime: 137 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%

 

I had obviously heard some of the reactions to J. Edgar before watching it, after all the film’s been out for over a month, and, accordingly, I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. People, critics and audiences alike, seemed to be extremely divided by the film, some really seemed to like it, giving high praise to Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, others seemed to be seriously disappointed by it, citing distracting make-up and other technical issues, and a confusing narrative that didn’t really let you concentrate in the performances. So I really didn’t know what to expect, I couldn’t predict what side of the fence I would fall on. I’ve always been a huge fan of Clint Eastwood’s films (I gave last year’s Herefafter, which people were also polarized by, an A grade, and ranked it 22nd on my year-end list) and, on paper at least, this one did seem like a slam dunk.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I can say that while some parts didn’t really do it for me, overall I really liked it. I mean, it’s incredibly ambitious and many times that hurts it as it can’t come close to achieving some of them, but the performance by Mr. DiCaprio is undeniable, one of the year’s very best given by a leading male performer, and the film holds itself together nicely enough, even if the results never really seem to make their case for or against J. Edgar Hoover. It’s far from being a bad film, even if it’s no masterpiece either, but for all its flaws, of which there are a few, you can’t help but be captivated by this film, fascinated by the story it tells, spanning seven decades with ease. And during those times when it just seems that it will all go out of control, there’s Mr. Eastwood, with a light, sure-handed guidance, preventing that from happening.

When I reviewed Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In about three weeks ago I said that the Spanish master is one of those directors that has a lifetime pass from me; he’s already given us so many masterful films that I won’t be pissed if his next one isn’t great and just be happy that he’s still making them. The same can be said about Mr. Eastwood, the man is eighty-one years old now, and has given us more than his fair share of outstanding films. And it’s as though he knows that himself, as every new film of his shows more and more that he’s over that need to impress and adapt. Which is why every new film of his also seems less and less safe, he doesn’t necessarily cares about a polished three-act structure, he never makes films for a paycheck, he takes chances with his choices, most of the time they seriously pay off, and even when they don’t he keeps going, delivering film after film with amazing consistency.

J. Edgar fits really nicely with the Eastwood oeuvre of late, by which I mean not the Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby era, but the Changeling or Hereafter era, films that mark him as a living legend preoccupied with staying true to his own vision, about expanding himself, continuing to evolve as a filmmaker at an age when many of his counterparts would be retiring or making the same thing over and over again. Mr. Eastwood isn’t done, J. Edgar, if anything, will make sure you realize that, he has a lot to say about the human condition, and yes, this film will no doubt have its detractors that will get really frustrated at it, but you can’t deny this man’s skill to tell a story.

J. Edgar Hoover has been dead for about four decades now, and when most people hear his name they tend to jump straight to the fact that he liked to dress as a woman, a rumor that was never actually verified, but the sort of gossip that, along with the fact that he never married, lived with his mother and had a close relationship with Clyde Tolson his protégé and the FBI’s associate director, triumphs over the fact that for over a half-dozen presidential administrations this man was probably the second most powerful man in the nation as he ran the FBI.

I liked J. Edgar, I kept hearing from some people that it was just awful, but I was surprised that this was as moving a film as I thought it ultimately was, a really nice portrayal of an American icon no one really seems to fully understand. And I liked that it wasn’t just the portrayal of a gay man which, considering that this was written by Dustin Lance Black, a gay man himself and the Oscar-winning writer of Milk, one could have easily suspected would have been the case. But it wasn’t, which made it all the more fascinating, it’s instead an exploration of the public image J. Edgar Hoover many times kept even in his private life, how for him it was all about impressions which would cement your power, and it’s really interesting to see that all play out.

Mr. Black does a good job at humanizing Hoover’s sexuality, not wanting to simply peg the man as a pervert like so many do, but instead working hard to show him as a closeted man but one who at the same time was true to his sexuality. He was a gay man in one of the nation’s most powerful positions, a guy who made a living out of knowing the secrets of everyone while trying to reveal none of his own. And actually, for all the things one would have maybe expected this film to be and at which it failed, I think that these qualities made it be a film few would have thought it would be, which is a really nice love story.

As we see Hoover’s relationship with Tolson, played really well by The Social Network‘s Armie Hammer, it becomes a really sweet love story that spans decades of partnership, both personal and professional. We also get looks at the other personal relationships that helped shape this man, relationships without which, this film makes very clear, this man would have no doubt crumbled over the strains his work put over him. Those relationships, other than the  one with Tolson, were ones with two women. One was his mother, played so well by Judi Dench, a really domineering figure. And the other one was with Helen Gandy, played impeccably by Naomi Watts, a woman who he tried to date in order to have a woman by his side in his public life, but who instead became his secretary, his close ally whom he entrusted with so much.

Sometimes the narrative drive of the film didn’t work for me, that’s true, but the screenplay had a purpose and Mr. Eastwood is brilliant and guiding it through. And then there’s Mr. DiCaprio’s brilliant performance, his best to date, one that’s so deep, so fully realized, so subtle, that it’s just amazing to watch and is what keeps the film going for nearly two-and-a-half hours. Yes, the makeup used to make him appear old can be quite distracting at times, but once you get over that it’ll be hard to miss the sheer greatness of his performance, all of the mannerisms of a very obsessive man playing across his face like gangbusters. He won’t win the Oscar because of how polarizing the film’s been, but it’s a damn amazing performance that you won’t want to miss.

I liked that Mr. Eastwood, being the standup man that he is, didn’t give us scandalous scenes that would cheapen the portrayal of this man. Like I said, I didn’t get the sense that the director was for or against Hoover, which is just as good because we can make that decision for ourselves. I’m an Eastwood apologist, that’s for sure, I’ll defend the man to the ends of the world, and I’m sure that he was fascinated by the man, the man obsessed with presenting an idea of himself to world, and I liked that such a legendary director tackled a story that needed to be told. It’s film that will help us understand a man so few actually do, that will give us the story of a very important man in a very important era of America, and one that just so happened to be gay.

Go watch J. Edgar right away, I don’t care what you may have heard about it being bad. It’s not a masterpiece, I actually still like Hereafter better than I did this one, but it is, I believe, an important film, and one made by one of the most important living directors. This is a guy who’ll stop making movies sooner than one would like, so we should cherish the ones he keeps giving us, should cherish the way he handles so many characters and decades here with such ease. Make of J. Edgar what you may, just please make sure you actually make something of it; by which I mean, go see it.

Grade: A-

Dream House

30 Oct

Title: Dream House
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jim Sheridan
Writer: David Loucka
Starring: 
Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language
Runtime: 
92 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
7%

 

I didn’t really know what to make of Dream House when I first heard of it, on one side it seemed like a generic haunted house movie, but then you read the names of the people involved in it and you had to at least put some faith in the film. I mean, this is a Jim Sheridan film, a six-time Academy Award nominee and the guy responsible for such amazing films as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer and In America, the fact that a guy like him, one who has given us three of Daniel Day Lewis’ most masterful performances, was attracted to this material had to mean something, and the fact that he had lured in Daniel Craig as well as Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, two of the finest actresses working today for my money, only backed up that opinion. And yet, upon watching Dream House it became painfully obvious that my first opinion was the right one, it ended up being just a really predictable and overdone horror film.

And it sucks because you know that Mr. Sheridan is a guy that obviously has it in him because he’s done really great movies, but this is a guy that should have realized by now that he should stick to doing movies that resonate with him personally and have some sort of relationship to his life, his best films have been all about Ireland in some way, where he’s from, with In America, which he co-wrote with his daughters all the way to an Academy Award nomination, being somewhat semi-autobiographical about his experience about immigrating to New York. But ever since the very moving In America, which came out in 2002, Mr. Sheridan has tried to tell other stories, and they’ve all been a far cry from the level of greatness achieved with his past films, making the very dubious decision to direct 50 Cent on 2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was based on the rapper’s life, and then taking four years off to make Brothers, which was actually a fine film with amazing performances by Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but that in the end really failed to resonate the way his past films have. And now he comes out with Dream House, which only makes it even more obvious the man has to go and make a film about stuff he actually knows about.

But then again apparently Mr. Sheridan himself knew this film wasn’t a good one, fighting over creative control of the film while on set with the head of the studio and going ahead and shooting some new scenes when the original ones didn’t go well with test audiences, which resulted in the studio taking the film away from him and cutting it themselves, even releasing a trailer that kind of spoiled a lot of the film’s good bits for people. That resulted in Mr. Sheridan wanting to take his name off the film, which is obviously never a good sign and I should’ve known this wasn’t going to be good. But still, you know? I mean, this is Jim Sheridan and a cast full of really competent actors, not to mention the talents of Caleb Deschanel (father of our #1 girl over here, Zooey), a very talented and experienced cinematographer who has worked on the likes of Being There and The Passion of the Christ. So it was still quite a shame to see so much wasted talent.

Will, the character Mr. Craig plays, is this successful guy from Manhattan who decides to relocate with his wife Libby, played by Ms. Weisz, and their two daughters to a new home in the New England area. But you know that a film that introduces this successful guy and then has him relocate to a new house to spend more time with his family probably won’t be about domestic bliss for all that long, and indeed that’s what happens when Dream House turns into this really kind of slow and foolish haunted house movie, a thriller that never once really thrills. The thing is that the movie never really established anything for it to then take down to our shock and horror, I mean, obviously we’re supposed to be alarmed when these people find out that their supposedly perfect new life isn’t as it seems, but we never really care about their lives for us to care about the new findings surrounding it, and thus the film never really has a fighting chance.

The stuff that happens is that apparently there was once a murder in the basement of the house, but the police and their secretive new neighbor, played by Ms. Watts, really do nothing to help out, and all the stuff we get to eventually find out about the murder really doesn’t gel at all, so it gets to the point that because these mysteries end up being so stuffed and inconsistent we don’t care at all when there’s that middle-of-the-film twists that’s supposed to take things for a loop. Look, this isn’t an unbearable film, because even if Mr. Sheridan and his team are nowhere near the top of their game they’re Mr. Sheridan and his team, and even if Mr. Craig kind of sucks here at least we have Ms. Weisz who always delivers. But the thing is that a year from now when you ask me about Dream House I’ll tell you that this was the film in which Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz met and then got married, the rest won’t really matter.

Grade: C

OscarWatch: Best Lead Actress

24 Jan

Since the Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning (!) I thought I’d do seven OscarWatch posts for the main races: Screenplay (encompassing both Original and Adapted), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director and Picture.

In them I’ll detail my thoughts on the given race and how I think things are starting to shape up considering we have now seen most of the precursor awards and count with BAFTA and SAG nominations. I’ll give my personal Top 20, with a brief paragraph on each, for any given race and detail which I think will be the nominees for the Oscars come Tuesday. In this post I’ll tackle…

Best Lead Actress

I’ll give my Top 20 performances given by actresses in a leading role in 2010, my brief thoughts on each and then I’ll say how I think the Oscar nominations for the category will look once they’re announced on Tuesday.

As for the state of the race itself, I’d very much like to call it a lock and say Natalie Portman will no doubt win this one. However, I don’t think we should count Annette Bening out just yet. I mean, I’d call it an 85% certainty that Ms. Portman will win this one, but Ms. Bening has already lost twice in this race (and I’m guessing that on both occasions she came in second in voting) so she’s due, and actors and audiences both love her, so an upset may occur.

Personal Top 20

  1. Natalie Portman (for Black Swan) – My favorite film of the year, my favorite performance of the year. I would love to see Annette Bening win because I thought she was robbed that first time she lost, but considering this performance by Ms. Portman then I’ll be sorry to tell her she should brace herself for a third loss.
  2. Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine) – Michelle Williams I think I’ve never seen do a single bad thing. And she, alongside Ryan Gosling (who I ranked 3rd in my Best Lead Actor rankings), is just dynamite here. Providing a brutally honest and painful look at a very troubled marriage.
  3. Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) – She’s undeniably great here, and she’s an awesome woman. The dinner scene at Paul’s house, from her singing that Joni Mitchell song, to finding out about her wife’s cheating and the expressions in her face, that’s all unbelievable acting from a woman who’s incredibly good at picking the right projects and is one of the best in the business.
  4. Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone) – One of the breakout stars of 2010, she carries her little film to absolute greatness with a remarkably grounded performance which gives a speck of hope to a horribly bleak film.
  5. Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole) – Nicole Kidman hasn’t been this good since The Hours. This was her passion project, she helped produce it and she stars in it, giving a gut-wrenching performance as a mourning mother.
  6. Julianne Moore (for The Kids Are All Right) – She goes head to head against Annette Bening in here, as her character goes through an emotional rollercoaster which she conveys to perfection.
  7. Carey Mulligan (for Never Let Me Go) – And I’ll say it one more time, Never Let Me Go, my official selection for the most underrated film of 2010. Carey Mulligan comes off her stellar star-making performance in last year’s An Education to star in this one, and she’s just amazing in it too.
  8. Lesley Manville (for Another Year) – Mike Leigh’s films are always an actor’s dream if the actor is willing to shed off any sort of vanity they may have and just lay it all on the line for the amazing director. Lesley Manville does just that, and the performance we end up seeing is a thing of beauty.
  9. Tilda Swinton (for Io Sono l’Amore) – I’m a big fan of Tilda Swinton, who already has an Oscar, and the work she did in this gorgeous Italian film is amazing, I seriously doubt a nomination will happen, but, much like Javier Bardem’s in the Best Lead Actor race, it would be kinda nice to see a foreign language performance get an acting nod.
  10. Noomi Rapace (for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – She’s generating some very nice buzz for her role in this one, the first entry in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novels, and it’s all well deserved. She has a toughness that’s just brilliant to watch develop.
  11. Anne Hathaway (for Love and Other Drugs) – This film is one I thought was severely underrated, and Anne Hathaway’s performance was truly amazing here. She won’t get nominated, but this only builds up her string of amazing acting in very solid films, and I can’t help but think she’ll get one of those golden men in the future.
  12. Kirsten Dunst (for All Good Things) – Consider this mention my official “welcome back” card for Ms. Dunst. We hadn’t seen her in anything for quite some time, so just the sight of her was something I cherished, the fact that she went on and delivered a very good performance was just additional icing on an already very sweet cake.
  13. Sally Hawkins (for Made in Dagenham) – Though this wasn’t as amazing as her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky (which the Academy failed to recognize) it was still buzzing with the charismatic energy Sally Hawkins has, and the film is a lighter than most Academy baits so it has that fresh appeal going for it.
  14. Annette Bening (for Mother and Child) – A double-honoree in my rankings here, this was a film I thought was seen by too few people and was also full of impeccable performances. Ms. Bening’s was the finest of the bunch, as is usually the case.
  15. Naomi Watts (for Fair Game) – To go toe to toe with Sean Penn, and actually manage to out-do him is something very few actors can accomplish. Naomi Watts does just that in Fair Game, a film in which she gets to play Valerie Plame and does some incredible things with the role.
  16. Diane Lane (for Secretariat) – This film was supposed to be much more an awards bait than it eventually turned out to be. But I still thought it was a very very good inspirational film, anchored by a very nice performance by Ms. Lane.
  17. Chloë Moretz (for Let Me In) – 2010 was also the year in which we discovered Chloë Moretz, first in Kick-Ass and then in Let Me In. The latter was the one in which she delivered her better performance, and, even though the film was well-received, very few people actually saw it. If you haven’t done so, please watch it, it’s nearly as perfect as the original Swedish film on which it’s based, and has Ms. Moretz bringing her A-game.
  18. Kristen Stewart (for Welcome to the Rileys) – You just have to watch Ms. Stewart’s non-Twilight roles to really see how great an actress she actually is. Yes, her style of acting may be the same in all her films, kind of fidgety and quiet, but that gives each of her characters something rather unique. In Welcome to the Rileys she plays a troubled girl to tremendous results, going head to head with James Gandolfini in some really tough scenes.
  19. Gwyneth Paltrow (for Country Strong) – The film eventually wasn’t as amazing as it first seemed it would be. But Gwyneth Paltrow was still amazing in it. I’ve heard a lot of people say she’s way overrated, but I disagree, I think she’s pretty damn awesome in everything she tackles.
  20. Amanda Seyfried (for Chloe) – As always, the final spot of my Top 20 goes to a sentimental favorite of mine. Here it’s Amanda Seyfried, who does wonders with the titular role in Chloe, having some electrifying scenes alongside Julianne Moore.

How I Think the Oscar Nominations Will Look Like (in alphabetical order)

  • Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right)
  • Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (for Winter’s Bone)
  • Natalie Portman (for Black Swan)
  • Michelle Williams (for Blue Valentine)

First time in my OscarWatch for the acting races that the five nominations I imagine the Academy will name matches five-for-five with my five favorite performances of the year. Natalie Portman and Annette Bening are the mortal locks, with the award itself being a fight between the two of them, a fight in which Ms. Portman currently has the edge. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence also look like very strong bets. As for that fifth slot, there’s a few ways in which that one could go, Michelle Williams I think will make the cut, and if she doesn’t I’d say it won’t happen because the voters will have put Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit as Lead instead of Supporting and she ended up bumping Ms. Williams off the shortlist.

Fair Game

17 Nov

Title: Fair Game
Year:
2010
Director:
Doug Liman
Writers:
Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on a book by Joseph Wilson and another book by Valerie Plame
Starring:
Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Sam Shepard, Bruce McGill
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, some language
Runtime:
108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes:
79%

Fair Game tells the story of the CIA leak scandal, also known as the Plame affair, in which Valerie Plame was identified as a covert CIA officer. The story focusses on both Ms. Plame, played by Naomi Watts, and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, played by Sean Penn, who has many times stated on the record that he thinks his wife being revealed as a covert was some sort of retribution by the Bush administration for a very critical piece he wrote for the New York Times in 2003, in which he said that he had found nothing in Niger that suggested Iraq had acquired nuclear material. The film, I thought, was very good, there were some moments in which it felt too much like a fact-for-fact telling of the story and not so much as the effective political thriller it was for the most part, but still, that didn’t happen all that much and the performances by Ms. Watts and Mr. Penn are phenomenal and that’s what made this film so great.

Doug Liman is a very good director. The guy started out with the fantastic Swingers, then the very good Go, and three years later he kicked off the Bourne franchise with The Bourne Identity, which obviously was fantastic. His latest two efforts haven’t been as amazing, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was quite fun but not as great as the previous ones, and his last film was Jumper, and we all would have been better off if we hadn’t seen that one.

Fair Game breaks that bad streak for him though, and gets him back at showing his abilities to the fullest in a film that he handles very well, effectively handling the mixing of news footage and the skills of his actors. And his actors, as I’ve said and will continue to say, are amazingly good here, they make their characters relatable, and that gets Fair Game to be something more than just a political thriller, as we get to see the human side of the story, too. Just imagine the marriage, this is a film that not only works as a very taut political film, but also as a very humane examination of a marriage under the most intense sort of marital pressure imaginable, seriously, take the politics away and this is just a look at a struggling modern marriage. Just think about it this way, a woman’s undercover status was supposedly blown by a government in retribution for an article her husband wrote. This is just very compelling stuff, and this is an entertaining and smart film through and through.

The Plame affair is a fantastic look of what American politics looked like back in the Bush administration, and Fair Game illustrates that awesomely. The screenplay is adapted from two separate memoirs, one by Ms. Plame and the other by Mr. Wilson, and it plays awesomely at portraying the relationship side of it all, juggling the demands of their busy work lives and their domestic life. The thing is that with such busy lives any sort of push may mean it could all come down, and in this relationship the push they got was the biggest it could have been. We know this story by heart, we know how it’s gonna end, we know about what Ms. Plame found out about Iraq, we know about Scoot Libby, we know it all, but this is still seriously gripping because of the way its told.

The film never hides its support for its characters. We see Ms. Plame’s cover blown, we see Mr. Wilson enraged and doing everything he can to expose the real criminals and defend the reputation of his family which was set under huge scrutiny. There are some facts that are indeed embellished, some that aren’t mentioned at all, but for the most part this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what happened, and, what’s best is that Mr. Liman gives this story a very good pace to keep it all very fun, and found in Mr. Penn and Ms. Watts the most perfect cast he could have wanted for this story.

The story obviously tells some hard facts, and it never shied away from pointing fingers and calling names, I appreciated that boldness, it added something great to it. Especially when you consider that the film isn’t an angry rant towards the former presidential administration, but instead it’s all very matter-of-factly. It basically goes ahead and says that if the administration hadn’t punished them for the information they got, then maybe the Iraq war wouldn’t have happened. I personally do agree to a degree with what this film tells us, and I guess that’s why I liked this film so damn much, and I guess that if you don’t agree with it you won’t find it as good.

But, hard as it may be, try and not focus on the real-life politics that are on full display. And try to focus on the film aspect of it all, this is an incredibly well-made political thriller, with two seriously outstanding performances, and that also shows a very accurate portrait of a modern marriage under the hugest of strains. Yes, things ended up well between Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson, they survived this all, but you’ll still leave the film angry about why the struggle came to be in the first place, and why things haven’t been corrected to this very day. That’s why this film is so good, because it stimulates and it entertains, politics aside, and that’s just what any great film of any type should aim to do.

Grade: B+

Conviction

13 Nov

Title: Conviction
Year:
2010
Director:
Tony Goldwyn
Writer:
Pamela Gray
Starring:
Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher
MPAA Rating:
R, language and some violent images
Runtime:
107 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
7.3
Rotten Tomatoes:
66%

 

I thought Conviction was going to be a way better film that it ultimately was. I mean, I did like the film, but I like the real-life story on which it was based way more. I thought the film was infinitely less compelling that it could have considering the source material it had and, what’s more, I felt like it tried too hard for your emotions, and I hate it when a film gets this conniving. I will however, say this for Conviction, Hilary Swank’s performance, though not award-worthy is still pretty damn good, and Sam Rockwell’s performance is even better, and he should be in the shortlist for the Best Supporting Actor nominations come awards season.

The story behind Conviction, the one of Betty Anne Waters who freed her wrongly-convicted brother from jail, is seriously good. I remember there was one 60 Minutes special about it that aired years ago and that served as the inspiration for this film that’s just terrific. And Conviction tells this story well, because it shows how Betty Anne completely altered her life for her cause, she left everything behind to fight for her brother, and it’s just a very compelling story all-around that needed a very powerful actress to embody that and, as I said, Hilary Swank delivers in this one. Though to be honest her performance was being touted as much better early onwards when the film was gathering buzz, most of which has subdued by now, and there’s still a part of me would have actually preferred to see the original choice of Naomi Watts in the role.

But yeah, even though I think Ms. Swank is actually terribly overrated, which is probably just me being pissed at her for stealing Annette Bening’s two Oscars, I do admit that she plays Betty Anne Waters quite well. She embodies that decided woman who had a harsh childhood and loves her brother, Kenny. And the role of Kenny Waters is played by Sam Rockwell in one seriously good performance. The guy liked to get buzzed, he was the life of the party, though he was known to be able to lose it sometimes. And then one night he’s arrested in suspicion of the murder of a woman who lived nearby. His bad attitude gets him on the nerves of a local policewoman who, after getting some bad testimonials from witnesses gets him behind bars.

And then the real story begins, when we see Betty Anne putting her life on hold to dedicate herself fully to proving his innocence. And the transformation this woman went through is outstanding, she went back to highschool, college, law school, all of this to get her brother out of jail because she was entirely sure he was innocent. We also get to meet Abra, a woman Betty Anne meets in law school who feels for her situation and ends up helping Betty Anne a lot the rest of the way. Abra is played by Minnie Driver, who’s also very effective in her role, and who I think I hadn’t seen at all before this since her days in The Riches, which made me realize I missed her quite a bit.

Kenny, in case you don’t know, was actually innocent, and he was freed and then died a few months after his release after a fall. Such is the irony in life, her sister literally threw her life, marriage and all, out the window to get him out and he dies a few months after she finally gets him released. But still, Betty Anne Waters is still dedicating her life to those wrongfully accused to this very day. The thing is, even though we already know the result, the good stuff is the story of how it came to be. The story of how she got Kenny to be freed, and there actually are some good courtroom scenes in Conviction, and it all works because you feel enraged knowing Kenny was innocent and that the law system was so damn ineffective.

However, as I said, I didn’t like Conviction as much as I thought I would. It started out really nicely, the scenes in which Mr. Rockwell was Kenny just partying and in town we pretty good, the guy is just really great at playing these sort of dangerous characters, those who can flip out all of a sudden. However, even though the real story only starts then and there still a couple of good scenes ahead, the character development kinda just stops there for the most part. And it sucks because even though Ms. Swank and Mr. Rockwell still end up giving pretty good performances the film has other actors too and those are left pretty much having just one dimension. And considering one of these other actors is the amazing Melissa Leo it’s a pity to see her character be so damn plain, though she does make the most of it.

And that’s my problem with Conviction, the fact that it spends its last half feeling completely predictable and formulaic. And considering it was based on a pretty extraordinary true story I hated seeing it resolve to such ordinary tactics. So yes, consider me unimpressed with Conviction but very much impressed with the performance of Sam Rockwell, if it weren’t for him I would be grading this one much lower and recommending it as just a should-have-been Lifetime TV movie. This was a film that had a great story to tell, and a great cast to tell it with, and yet the result we’re left with felt rather mediocre.

Grade: B-