Why are so few people talking about “Conviction”?

Is it boring to talk about Hilary Swank being very strong in a quintessentially awards-style role? Over-awarded or not, it shouldn’t stop talk of how real and involving she is as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts waitress who saves her imprisoned brother by becoming a lawyer and absolving him of murder.

Swank is sturdy as the accidental lawyer and Sam Rockwell lights it up as convicted murderer Kenny Waters. Swank’s great advantage is that she fits so easily as a normal person, with perfectly measured emotional range. Rockwell plays a barfight scene in a totally new way, teetering between violence and comedy–Swank may be the backbone of “Conviction” but Rockwell is the heart.

“Conviction” is a type of film rarely made about women: movies about obsession. Usually, female film obsessions are about age, looks and men in that “All About Eve” sort of way. Far fewer are films, particularly obsession films, about women at work, as with “Conviction.” The movie plays like a female counterpart to David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” a film about male obsession surrounding a real-life unsolved murder mystery.

For all the talk about “Conviction” being conventional (traditional might be a better word), it rarely goes for the expected payoff to a scene. Even a courtroom scene that offers plenty of chance for riotous jubilation gets an admirably underplayed treatment by director Tony Goldwyn (the director of Diane Lane’s “A Walk on the Moon” gets two great female performances from Swank and Minnie Driver.) This crowd-rousing film always goes for something more quiet and more fulfilling. This is a movie that gives traditional a good name.

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