Conviction: A Legal Drama You Can Rule In Favor Of

22 10 2010

Conviction, based off the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her brother Kenny, stars two-time Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank, as well as Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis. Here’s the breakdown:

After her brother, Kenny, was convicted of murder in 1983, Betty Anne Waters devoted her life to proving him innocent. She put herself through law school, sacrificed her family and persevered when there seemed to be no hope; Betty Anne’s journey changed her life, and the life of her beloved brother, forever.

The Monkey: At first glance, Conviction might seem like a sappy Lifetime movie at worst or a run-of-the-mill legal thriller at best. It’s neither – due in large part to the incredible talent involved. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell blew me away. They were Betty Anne and Kenny Waters. Their on-screen chemistry was unmistakable, making the emotions palpable and bringing a reality to the movie that, without, could have tanked the whole thing. Hilary Swank has two Oscars for a reason, and this movie just might be her vehicle for lucky number three. Everything about her performance, from her accent to her facial expressions, was spot on. And kudos to Sam Rockwell for making Kenny a sympathetic character. Kenny isn’t the greatest guy; in fact, he’s kind of a douche. Yet Rockwell brings a level of humanity to his character that can’t be ignored. This is not a one-dimensional character, and his portrayal challenges criminal and tough-guy stereotypes every step of the way. His performance deserves Oscar recognition, especially in light of the gross dismissal of his performance in last year’s Moon.

Aside from the two leads, Conviction was littered with inspired performances. Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis nearly steal the show whenever they are on-screen. Driver brought much needed levity and humor to the film, and it was perfectly measured: not overdone, just enough. And Lewis’ turn as a cracked-out witness was hilarious, sad and deftly executed. I would be disappointed if both these amazing actresses didn’t see a Best Supporting Actress nomination come Oscar season.

Conviction was expertly written by Pamela Gray, and Tony Goldwyn’s direction gave the film a driving force and a quick pace that never left the audience bored. Viewers feel elated when Betty Anne makes progress, and devastated when new roadblocks spring up. While the outcome was never really in question, the path to the end was satisfyingly thrilling, making it a truly enjoyable movie-going experience.

The Weasel: Betty Anne sacrifices a lot for her brother, and at one point, her drive has a negative impact on her family. This is never fully addressed, at least to my satisfaction. Was she right to make such sacrifices? When does one draw the line? What if this film had taken a different perspective; would the audience have viewed Betty Anne’s actions differently? I was hoping for a little more closure here, or at the very least, a realization on Betty Anne’s part of the level of sacrifice she made. Her struggle in the movie is very surface level and could have been a much bigger part of the story.

An amazing story about an amazing woman, Conviction packs four Oscar-worthy performances into an Oscar-worthy film. I would be shocked to see this film overlooked come award season.

5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Conviction a successful family drama/courtroom thriller? Do you think the film deserves some Oscar recognition? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Iron Man 2: A Well-Oiled Machine of a Sequel

18 05 2010

Iron Man 2 has been dominating the box office, even beating out Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, leading the U.S. box office for the second week in a row. Reuniting Robert Downey, Jr. with director Jon Favreau seems to have done the trick, adding one more successful comic book movie to the ever growing roster. Here’s the breakdown:

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), has become a one-man army, acting as a sort of world peace keeper. Because of the Iron Man suit’s near invincibility, the U.S. government, along with rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), become intent on gaining access to the suit’s technology.

Add in Tony’s recently acquired and debilitating blood disease, a feisty new assistant with a secret (Scarlett Johansson), a scorned Russian inventor (Mickey Rourke) and an old friend turned ally (Don Cheadle) and Iron Man 2 has all the ingredients necessary for a summer blockbuster.

The Monkey: Right off the bat, I have to give the filmmakers kudos for keeping this sequel “simple;” not simple effects, not simple story, but a straightforward, no-doubt-about-it sequel. The title is clear – no lengthy sub-title, just the oft-discarded “2.” And there was a certain level of confidence that the movie could perform well without having to cave to industry trends by choosing to release the movie in standard 2D instead of 3D (the same can be said for the upcoming Prince of Persia as well).

Unlike many blockbuster wannabe’s, Iron Man 2 knows what it is – a colorful, effects-laden comic book movie. And that’s exactly what it delivers. The set-pieces are extravagant (namely, the Stark Expo), the effects are dazzling and the film abandons the path of dark, gritty drama for an even lighter and much more humorous script than even the first installment.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance is inspired – just as Tony Stark declares, “I am Iron Man,” Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark. His wit and subtlety elevate Iron Man 2 beyond a mere eye-candy flick to a solid, legitimate film.

Many critics have lamented the many new characters and the multiple plot threads, claiming the movie can’t contain them successfully (similar to the universally disappointing Spider-Man 3); however, I didn’t get a sense of compacted plotting or superfluous character. Even thinking back on the complexity of the story, it indeed seems a bit too much for a two hour movie, but the end result is completely satisfying.

The Weasel: Downey, Jr.’s is the only performance most people will pay attention to, and for good reason. The supporting characters of Iron Man 2, while not distracting, hardly add anything worth speaking of. Just about any actor even remotely fitting the character could have been plugged into the various roles (as made evident by the positively baffling move to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle – Cheadle added absolutely nothing to the role, making the switch pointless and confusing). The only exception to this might be Gwyneth Paltrow, who, after two movies, I think has earned the right to be Tony Stark’s go-to gal, Pepper Potts.

While the myriad plots worked well together, an overall theme, an element that tied everything together, was sorely lacking. The writers tried to remedy this with a half-hearted storyline involving Tony’s father, but it felt forced and tacked on. Should it have been further explored? To create more emotional weight and cohesion, maybe, but it could have just as easily slipped into cliché and melodrama.

A successful sequel, to be sure. And while Iron Man 2 stands alone, the movie provides some wonderful teasers for future Marvel projects, the culmination of which is The Avengers in summer 2012 (make sure to stay till the end of the credits for a special teaser). And Iron Man 3 has already been announced, with a possible 2013 release.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Iron Man 2 live up to the original? Are you excited for the upcoming Marvel movies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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