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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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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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