Conviction is a bit of waste of an interesting story about a single mother Betty Anne Waters (Hillary Swank) who does everything even going to law school herself to prove that her brother was innocent of a murder he was convicted for. The film goes for a forced sentimentality too often rather than just allowing the emotions to flow as they should, and many of the performances are underwhelming including Swank in the lead.
The one performance that rises above the film is Sam Rockwell's. I have reviewed Rockwell twice before for his wildly entertaining performances in Galaxy Quest and Seven Psychopaths. This is a rather different performance from Sam Rockwell who plays a much more toned down sort of guy here, he has a few short Rockwellian moments but they are brief in scenes that work for when Kenny is either drunk or very excited. For the most part Sam Rockwell downplays his role very much and plays Kenny as a down to earth guy who is a bit of a trouble maker who ends up in some serious troubles when a cop targets him for the crime.
Sam Rockwell has several scenes he appears in but they tend to be fairly short scenes. Many of his scenes mostly consist of reaction shots, and frankly the film would have done well to stay a little more with his character. Rockwell therefore is limited here by the film which is all about finding his character's innocence but there is not even a scene where he is really even pressured about the whole affair. The film never takes Kenny's predicament far enough leaving most of it to Rockwell to show it in just his brief scenes. Rockwell though does do his very best to make this a moving characterization despite the limitations of the part.
Early on Rockwell makes Kenny a likable trouble maker. He has it clear that he is a guy who speak his mind too often is is not opposed to foolish behavior, but underneath he has a good heart. Rockwell manages to be sympathetic while showing exactly why though he would be so easily find himself in hot water as well. This leads as he is quickly convicted. Rockwell is very effective in first showing his disbelief at first, than is quite moving in his first scene in prison after a suicide attempt. It is a very strong scene almost silent portraying that he has finally realized the weight of the situation.
As the film goes on we get quick scenes to keep us updated on Kenny's feelings throughout his sister's journey to find him innocent. Rockwell is very good in all of these short scenes which are easily the best moments in the film as his portrayal of Kenny's reactions to the development bring out the most genuine emotions in the film. Rockwell gets across the pain of the situation in scenes of failure as he shows the frustrations and paranoia due to being placed in jail for a crime he did not commit. At the same time he gets across the poignancy of the moments when Rockwell portrays the jolt of euphoria as Kenny sees that perhaps he will make it out after all.
This is a good performance by Sam Rockwell. It does not rank as one of his very best performances though merely because the film never allows him to really go as far with the character as it appears he could have gone with a better script. He is by far the best part of the film though. He is the only actor who does not flub his accent by over doing as well as more importantly Rockwell manages to bring the dramatic weight of the situation despite the limitations set on him by the film. He made me actually care about his character's story enough to get through the many weak passages found throughout the rest of the film.