Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Uninspired By True Events.

Watching Conviction you just know it's the kind of "inspired by true events" movie that will end with a picture of the real people and a corny song. You do not expect this from 127 Hours though.
Yet both do it and with the same degree of corny smugness as the other, the one difference is that while one feels just redundant for it, the other does it to teach us a metaphysical lesson of sorts and loses whatever credibility it had before. Care to guess which is which?

In Conviction Hilary Swank plays Betty Anne Waters, an unemployed single mom who decides to become a lawyer to get her brother Kenny (Rockwell) out of jail. Kenny was accused of murdering a woman and according to his sister he's innocent. We follow her through her hard years of school as she deals with working at a bar, raising her sons and maintaining that thick Massachusetts accent for as long as she can.
This is one of those movies in which you know how everything will go: the villains are scary (Leo gives a one note performance as an evil cop), the good guys are practically angels (Swank is missing but a halo from her "hard working but tastefully dressed" look) and someone always comes along and makes the movie seem much, much better than it has any right to be. In this case it's both Rockwell who gives another of his crazy cowboy performances and Lewis, who in a mere two scenes pretty much owns the film. The movie is directed efficiently, if not truly memorably by Goldwyn who seems to put more attention to his characters than to any stylistic flourishes yet in the end the movie fails gigantically because it doesn't make Betty someone we are dying to know more of.
Have you ever noticed how watching a Hilary Swank movie, you know it's a Hilary Swank movie? Not because she takes over the screen with her inescapable charm or magnetic screen presence but because every other character always seems to bow to her's.
Watching talented actors the likes of Driver, Rockwell and Lewis gaze teary eyed at Swank as if they were in the presence of something divine lacks the impact it would have if they were staring at Julia Roberts. Swank, unlike Julia, isn't capable of killing the "sanctify me" glare the supporting players emit. With a big movie star, their shine is so bright that they make scenes like these work, with Swank you just know she has a hand for picking screenplays and/or casting herself in films she produced.

Speaking of creative control, remember how once upon a time Danny Boyle was one of the most surprising working filmmakers? Each of his films felt like something completely new and exciting. From the creepy terror of 28 Days Later to the joyful cuteness of Millions and of course the addictive Trainspotting, his career seemed to scream "prolificness".
After going unintentionally mainstream with Slumdog Millionaire he seems to have compromised his vision and turned it into something that resembles conformity. Such is the case in 127 Hours where Boyle shows us the events that led mountain climber Aron Ralston (Franco) to amputate his own arm after getting trapped in a canyon.
And by saying he shows us, it's really because he makes a show out of everything, 127 Hours think it's being introspective and deep when it's mostly being obvious and overtly didactic. At the beginning of the film we see how Aron barely misses his Swiss Army knife when packing for his trip and from the position of the camera and the angle we know that this knife will play a part later on. Of course it does and like the knife, Boyle uses flashbacks and characters to put together a puppet show about how sad Ralston's life was before the accident and how amazing he must've felt after being reborn (no spoilers here considering we learn the film is an adaptation from a book by Aron).
Boyle uses complicated techniques to try and inject some energy into the proceedings but the truth is that this time he tries too hard to express stylistic freedom displayed through conventional methods. When his split screens should be recalling triptychs and art history, all they really do is make us think the editor is just showing off his new software and for all of the metaphysical ramblings he makes Aron say, all we're stuck with is ninety minutes of Boyle interpreting the whole "light at the end of the tunnel" people are supposed to see before they die.
After the film sends us home floating in a cloud of positivity (the Dido meets Enya theme song is arid and cliché) we might not be thinking too much about Aron and the rock but wondering if that Oscar fell upon Boyle and is keeping his true talent trapped?

Grades: Conviction ** 127 Hours **


Anonymous said...

Hated Slumdog, loved 127. Directing talent-wise, i thought the latter brought so much more of Boyle's out. Oh well..

Candice Frederick said...

wow. i hate to hear bad things about this movie. i so wanted it to be good. i am still gonna see i but i have to admit these reviews are not very thrilling. thanks for this.

Jose said...

5plitreel: perhaps it did but it was very muffled.

Candice: oops sorry to disappoint you. You might enjoy it though, most reviews I've seen for it are great!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

NAILED it. It's so weird, me and my older sister are sitting there watching Conviction and the halfway through she turns me, "Who the hell does she think she is, Erin Brockovich?" and I burst out laughing. Julia would have been so much better here because she can control meandering scripts, Hilary not so much. And, yeah, I established that I'm with you on 127 Hours.

PS. Love this doubling up, it works excellently here.