Around awards season there are films shameless in their quest for glittering prizes.  Such works have been labelled ‘Oscar-bait’ as they fill their productions with previous award winners and mostly true-life uplifting tales.  Conviction easily slides into this category.  With two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as its forthright heroine, the stage is set for an attention grabbing display of histrionics worthy of award giver’s attentions.

When her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is wrongly convicted for murder, Betty (Hilary Swank) seeks justice.  Unemployed and a single mother, she puts herself through law school in order to defend him.  Over an 18 year period her efforts would uncover a litany of lies and prejudice.  Against a sometimes unforgiving legal system and a tide of shadowy conspirators, Betty’s efforts would have a lasting impact on the legal profession.

When it focuses on the events it’s based on, Conviction is often a compelling piece.  Delving into the reliability of evidence and of DNA’s use in uncovering new facts an engaging argument for the continual pursuit of truth is presented.  Where it falls down is when it fictionalises people’s words and actions.  Like many factually-driven movies, Conviction speculates on moments it knows little about and almost flat-lines as a result.  Most of this is due to some clunky dialogue and Tony Goldwyn’s poor direction which seeps out any genuine sincerity.

Its main trouble is its speeding up of events.  Covering an 18 year period, the narrative flits between time-zones without any care for consistency and relevancy.  Not helping is the characterisation of Betty, with Swank’s forced performance making her come across as an obsessive martyr.  This isn’t a good way to build audience empathy with Conviction also going for the stock standard ‘happy ending’.  Playing fast and loose with the actual truth of what happened afterwards, this also negates its efforts in becoming a convincing and stirring film.

Sometimes intriguing, Conviction’s supposition and bending of facts slowly deflate its gains.  As superficial as most ‘Oscar-baiting’ films usually are, it’s no wonder it has received little recognition from awards panels that have shown the foresight to see past its transparent veneer.

Rating out of 10:  5


If you see the name Joel Silver on a movie poster you know you’re in for a wild time.  Producer of such hits such as the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series, his name has become synonymous with slam-bang action.  Unknown is the latest from his production line with Liam Neeson a stoic lead amongst the expected mayhem.  Its plot may be convoluted nonsense, although Silver’s touch ensures one should enjoy the explosive thrills with glee.

Awakening after a car accident in Berlin, Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) wonders what has happened to his wife Elizabeth (January Jones).  Recovering and eventually locating her, he’s shocked when she doesn’t recognise him and finds another man has stolen his identity.  Stunned by this turn of events and hunted by a cabal of mysterious assassins, he goes on the run.  With the help of taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger), he races towards a finish where the unknown becomes a dangerous place to be.

One thing to be said of Unknown is that it moves like a rocket.  Unlike other thrillers however it remembers to marry the action and plot together to make a great package.  In some ways it’s reminiscent of the formula director Alfred Hitchcock used to utilise – some mystery, romance and action targeting all available audiences.  It helps its story is quite intriguing as it delves into the nature of identity and how easily it can be twisted.  Whilst there are some inconsistencies, the strong characters and involving plot make for an enjoyable cinematic puzzle for viewers to solve.

Astutely directed and sublimely photographed, it makes the most of its foreign setting.  The Berlin streets come alive with mystery and danger as the stark industrial setting mirrors the isolation our hero feels by being trapped in a strange land.  Its twist driven premise has the potential for all sorts of situations, which are mostly effectively utilised.  It’s a relief seeing an action film of quality – most seem to take the easy route to thrills but thankfully Unknown works hard at crafting a solid tale and forges its own path towards a genuinely exciting and unexpected conclusion.

With his prestige diluted after a spate of dud films, producer Joel Silver redeems himself with Unknown.  Having a great lead in Neeson is a bonus and shows a few decades after Lethal Weapon blazed a trail Silver hasn’t lost his high-octane touch.

Rating out of 10:  7