August 31, 2015
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TIFF ’10: ‘Conviction’ fights the good fight, while ‘Never Let Me Go’ offers sci-fi from the heart

By Sean O’Connell Sometimes you know exactly what you are going to get from a film before you even step foot in the theater.

Tony Goldwyn’s “Conviction” delivers that type of movie-going experience. What you see in the official synopsis is what you will see on the screen. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Based on actual events, “Conviction” stars Hilary Swank as Betty Ann Waters, a blue-collar bulldog who sacrifices damn-near everything in her personal and professional life so she can overturn her older brother Kenny’s (Sam Rockwell) murder conviction. She puts herself through law school, re-discovers crucial evidence that proves Kenny’s innocence, and fingers the corrupt law official (Melissa Leo) and multiple witnesses who lied to put Kenny behind bars.

Swank and Rockwell fit comfortably into roles that are tailored-made to their strengths; she as a ferocious underdog with the heart of a lion, he as a white-trashy rascal who isn’t as appalling as his scruffy exterior suggests. Through their connection, “Conviction” convinces us that blood remains thicker than the legal system. But the picture is going through the motions, tapping the right beats while mustering no surprises, no improvisations. This is by-the-book storytelling. What you think you’ll see is what you’ll get.

On the flip side, I had no idea what to expect from Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go,” and now that it has screened, I’m still not 100-percent sure what I saw. Not having read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, I went into “Never” cold … and stayed a little frigid as this poetic, literate love-triangle drama played out.

I’m going to refrain from spelling too much of “Never” out, as it’s true that the less you know about the mysterious plot, the better the film will play.

I don’t think it’s ruining anything to say Romanek – a music video creator who directed “One Hour Photo” with Robin Williams – has created a science-fiction story that’s rooted in reality and draws from the heart, not our imaginations. I’m jokingly referring to “Never” as “Blade Lovers,” though that’s not a slight. Just a summation.

Because it asks controversial emotional questions, “Never” deserves deeper consideration and can’t be judged with a “yay” or “nay” on a few hours of contemplation (from a very tired brain). I plan to revisit the film again before writing extensively about it. For me, the film’s emotional pull wasn’t as strong as I anticipated, and part of that has to do with the physical nature of the characters played by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. That statement will make a lot more sense once you’ve seen it. And see it, you should. There’s a lot to appreciate in “Never” … and plenty to discuss afterward.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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