Oct 21, 2010

REVIEW: Conviction

Saying goodbye to his sister, Hillary Swank, who is visiting him while he serves time for a murder he did not commit, Sam Rockwell says, "...love you... love you," in the low, distracted whisper of a man who is already far, far away — in his imagining, she's already gone. Is there anyone better at conveying solitude in American movies right now? Readers of this blog will know how committed to the cause of Rockwell we are around here, maybe not quite committed enough to devote our entire lives to getting him sprung from jail, but committed enough to watch cheesy movies about the same which leave us with wobbly chins and a subway ride home filled with slightly square meditations on man's injustice to man. We have already noted Rockwell's amazing capacity to appear lonely in a crowd, and crowded when alone — the way his solitude feels more populous than other people's parties. He's a naturally gregarious performer, who lords it in the sunshine of people's attention. Viewers of Conviction get to see him do one of his now-famous dances, as beatific as Snoopy's; some goofing around with some pink, plastic shades; and a full moon at some assembled party guests; and yet all of this comes shot through with the melancholy of a man who cannot stop everyone from going home eventually, leaving him stranded so far from happiness, or normality, that he can only laugh. There's not a hint of gloom to any of this. His inner-space explorations have something of Bowie's quirky wit, which made his collaboration with Duncan Jones, on Moon, all the more apposite. The dark side of the moon is as obvious a Rockwell hang-out as East London was for Oldman's Sid Vicious, or Little Italy for De Niro's Johnny Boy. All of which is another way of saying that when Conviction's director Tony Goldwyn gives Rockwell only a handful of scenes, and asks him to convey in a each a man a few years deeper into a wrongful life sentence, Rockwell pulls if off with the ease of a man born to the task. Each time we see his Kenny, we feel the passage of years — in the slowness of his reaction times, a slight dullness behind the eyes, his toughening gait when he walks into the room. The film is nothing special, a by-the-book crusade-against-injustice pic, slightly more grittily shot than the last, which allows Hillary Swank to narrow her eyes, purse her chapped lips and vow, in a nasal Masachussetts accent, to stand by her man, and wobetide anyone who dares suggest her Kenny might actually be guilty — which people do at 20-minute intervals through the film — but Rockwell turns the thing into a nail-biter. You feel the rot, claiming him, every time you see him. He offers a time-lapse image of a man dying in front of our eyes. C+

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