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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Conviction

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell star in "Conviction."
"Let justice be done though the heavens fall" ran an ancient Roman maxim. The fact-based portrait of a woman seemingly prepared to move heaven and earth in her quest to see justice done, "Conviction" (Fox Searchlight) makes for a gritty yet touching drama.

In small-town Ayer, Mass., in the early 1980s, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank)—a working-class mother of two who never finished high school—watches in frustration as her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is convicted of a brutal murder and sentenced to life without parole. Though Kenny's brash personality, hair-trigger temper and record of minor run-ins with the law do nothing to help his case, Betty Anne remains convinced of his innocence.

As a series of flashbacks show, the siblings share an unusually close bond based on their challenging childhood. Neglected by their selfish mother (Karen Young), and left with no one to rely on but each other, their fondness for trespassing and shoplifting eventually landed Betty Anne in a foster home and Kenny in reform school.

In her desperation to see Kenny freed from his latest confinement, Betty Anne strikes on the unlikely idea of becoming a lawyer for the sole purpose of representing and eventually clearing him. Though this will mean completing her high school credits, earning an undergraduate degree, years of law school study and passing the bar exam, Betty Anne sets out on the long path to her distant goal undaunted.

Meanwhile, she also pursues her own investigation of the case.

As her suspicions focus increasingly on Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo), one of the arresting officers, and as she discovers the potential of the then-nascent science of DNA analysis to vindicate Kenny, Betty Anne acquires the help of fellow law student and newfound friend Abra Rice (Minnie Driver) as well as that of famed attorney Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher), co-founder of the real-life Innocence Project.

Set in a hardscrabble environment—its script (by Pamela Gray) studded with vulgarities—director Tony Goldwyn's rough-edged salute to against-the-odds heroism celebrates Betty Anne's selfless dedication and endless determination. But it also shows the toll her crusade takes on her marriage and on her relationship with her young sons Richard (Conor Donovan) and Ben (Owen Campbell).

In fact, as admirable as Betty Anne's love for her brother may be, the fact that her husband gets left by the wayside in her dogged pursuit of Kenny's release raises questions about competing family values and misplaced priorities.

For adult viewers not averse to a rough-and-tumble atmosphere—"Conviction" ultimately acquits itself with generally positive, though certainly not unmixed, underlying messages about courage, perseverance and family solidarity.

The film contains some gruesome crime scene images, brief rear nudity, a suicide theme, about a dozen uses of profanity, close to 60 instances of rough language and frequent crude or crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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