Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank in "Conviction"

Posted by julian On 3:00 PM
Whether or not you believe the old Hollywood maxim “directing is 90% casting,” you do have to admit that it’s a hefty percentage of the sum of any good film. Tony Goldwyn, who directed the true story exoneration drama Conviction, now in theaters, obviously understands this. Sam Rockwell was Goldwyn’s first and only choice to play the convicted murderer Kenny Waters and casting him was a wise move indeed.  Now, signing Rockwell didn’t leave Goldwyn with only 10% of the work to do but it certainly improved the film before the cameras got rolling.

Read the rest of "Best in Show: Sam Rockwell" at Tribeca Film

...Meanwhile here at The Film Experience

I regret to inform that there's no proper review of the movie coming. (If anyone knows a good free Time Management Class in NYC, do let me know, will you?) But Conviction, which expands (maybe to your city) Friday will get some coverage here nontheless. Some words on Tony Goldwyn (writer/director/sometime actor) and the one and only Juliette Lewis are forthcoming. Many of you have already asked what I thought of the Swankster. So I shall divulge.

I would rank this as her third best performance. It's lesser than Million Dollar Baby (able work but the film / character are nowhere near as dynamic) and miles below Boy's Don't Cry. The latter is her peak, her Mount Everest if you will; her other performances can only see it with binoculars. To be fair, many Actresses could only see that particular performance with binoculars. Contrary to popular belief I have never begrudged her that first Oscar.

"It's okay, Sam. You can have one of mine."
It's interesting that Hilary Swank's best work always involves single-minded characters. As you know I've never found her particularly gifted but rather than bag on her (she's good in the film) like the haters always assume I will, I'll just explain my theory about her.

Were Swank to have stayed in television, I think she'd have proven to be a popular and fairly adept lead in procedural dramas or some such with a shelf of Emmys to show for it rather than two Oscars and pockets of haters and minor media backlash. She is undoubtedly capable of hitting her marks, carrying a film (i.e. the ability to hold audiences attention for a good long while -- which is a different talent than "acting" but mandatory for film stardom) and, most importantly, selling the important emotions of a scene. She can sometimes do this with enormous aching feeling and she's been abundantly rewarded for just that. But where I've always found her lacking, and thus the Oscar attention galling, is that she doesn't seem capable of doing that and... Which is to say that she only sells one idea about a character at a time. Were you to define the greatest weapons in the arsenal of any truly gifted big screen actor, I think you'd find that their ability to convey a multiplicity of feelings simultaneously is one of them. The great screen actors can merely look towards the camera and you get not one but two (or several) ideas about the character. They have the gift of three-dimensional sculpting. Some of them, the ones with a penchant for minimalism or an unusual facility with ambiguity especially,  can even cross over into a fourth dimension of...

But I digress. I could go on and on -- I have feelings and theories about screen acting (!) to state the very obvious -- but I do think the filmmakers (and maybe the actress herself?) who have found the best uses for Swank have understood, even if only on an instinctual level, that her limits can be used as strengths to service characters who have only ever allowed themselves one track, one purpose or one guiding emotion. (Amelia, was an interesting failure in light of this. While Earhart was engaged in a singular-minded pursuit, the woman was too complex an individual otherwise for Swank's approach). Swank's key characters,  Brandon, Maggie and now Betty Anne Waters, really have only this single-mindedness to unite them.

Swank x 3: Boy's Don't Cry, Million Dollar Baby, Conviction

Well, that and their coincidental (?) white trash childhoods. I have no explanation for the poverty stricken childhoods -- "I'm just a girl from a trailer park with a dream!" -- and I'll leave that up to your theorizing, should you want to go there.

Do you plan to see Conviction? Do you think Swank can pull off a surprise third nomination (it is a longsuffering bio) or that Sam Rockwell will finally win an Oscar nomination?
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