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Toronto Dispatch: 'Conviction'

 Up north at the Toronto Film Festival—which is my personal favorite of all the films festivals out there—and seen a lot in the last 24 hours. More extensive reviews coming in the next few days, but wanted to first sing the praises of “Conviction,” which premiered tonight and opens Oct. 15 in limited release. The reason I feel the need to push this particular movie is that I've heard from more than one person that isn't interested in the film because they feel the trailer looks like a Movie of the Week. (I have heard "Lifetime movie" used more than once, and just have to point out that I've actually liked a couple Lifetime movies. But I digress.) 

The truth is, "Conviction" is the type of story that could have gone very, very wrong in less skilled hands. It tells the true story of Betty Ann Waters, whose brother Kenny was convicted of murder, prompting her to enroll in law school to fight for his freedom. It's an amazing true story, brought to life by the direction of Tony Goldwyn--whose work I've enjoyed in the past ("Someone Like You," "A Walk on the Moon") but I have to admit nothing prepared me for the assured hand he displayed with this material. In addition, the film stars Hilary Swank in the "ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances" kind of role she excels in and Sam Rockwell at the top of his game. I talked to Rockwell last week--look for his Oct. 7 cover story in Back Stage--and even he said it was some of the best work he's done in his career. Considering this is the man who starred in "Moon" just last year, that's saying a lot. I feel like I've said it before, but I truly believe this is the year Rockwell will finally land an Oscar nomination. And I'm not alone--the publicist of a certain actor that is likely to earn their own nomination this year even said to me that Rockwell was "the one to beat." 

Swank and Rockwell earned a lot of applause at the premiere tonight, but the biggest reaction was saved for Betty Anne Waters herself, who appeared at the end of the screening to a standing ovation. She was also present at the after party at the Thompson Hotel, where I spoke to her briefly about seeing her life on screen. She told me that while Rockwell bears little physical resemblance to Kenny (who weighed about 300 pounds in real life), the actor definitely captured the manner and spirit of her brother, who passed away in 2001. "I looked up there and truly thought I was seeing Kenny," Waters said of Rockwell. Which has to be the highest praise possible.

--Jenelle Riley

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