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Oscar Watch: Rockwell Nails Conviction Role

Oscar Watch: Rockwell Nails Conviction Role

Thompson on Hollywood

Sometimes, there comes a moment in a working actor’s life where just the right role suddenly galvanizes awards attention. I’ve been tracking Sam Rockwell since he broke out at Sundance in 1996 with Tim DiCillo’s Box of Moon Light. Rockwell has been knocking out great juicy performances ever since–often in smaller indie films such as George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, or David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels. He’s also a stalwart supporting player in Frost/Nixon, The Green Mile and The Assassination of Jesse James, and hilarious in Galaxy Quest and Iron Man 2. He held his own opposite Mickey Rourke–not an easy thing to do. Jon Favreau rewarded Rockwell with a role in the upcoming sci-fi western Cowboys and Aliens. And Rockwell also held the screen against himself in the complex and moving BAFTA-winning sci-fi indie Moon, which generated serious Oscar talk last year–but didn’t have a proper Oscar campaign behind it.

Finally, Conviction brings Rockwell the role of his career, playing the real-life rebellious and volatile Kenny Waters, who grew up neglected and abused on the wrong side of the tracks and ended up with a murder conviction, in prison for life. His sister, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), finished high school, put herself through college and law school, over eighteen years, in order to figure out a way to prove that he was innocent of the crime. Rockwell shows us how this guy feels–angry, hopeful, despairing, suicidal, never sure if it will work out, hanging onto his sister to deliver his freedom. It’s tough, real, upsetting stuff.

See my flip cam interview with Rockwell, below.

The climactic prison scenes had to be shot over again because the grueling 16-hour day’s shoot was ruined by an airport X-ray. But doing it over made it even better, director Tony Goldwyn told me in Toronto. While two-time Oscar winner Swank gives yet another stellar performance, Rockwell, who is an actors’ actor, should finally earn the recognition that he deserves.

Fox Searchlight eventually picked up the $12.5 million movie, which is in limited release, and has been sending Swank, Rockwell, supporting actress hopeful Juliette Lewis (who goes overboard with mossy teeth) and Waters herself on a national promo tour. They all wound up at my Sneak Previews class, where the movie played well. In an effort to keep the promo budget in line, the actors are driving themselves to L.A. events–and Lewis got into a fender bender on the way home from the Writers Guild. “It’s an easy place to save money,” said Swank.

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Janet, contact the California and Hawaii Innocence Project, California Western School of Law, 225 Cedar Street, San Diego, CA 92101. Write them with an overview of the case, and include the docket numbers for the original court case as well as the appellate docket numbers, if you have them. Good luck to you.

Tim Craig

If Sam Rockwell did not get consideration for his fantastic performance in “Moon,” there is no way he is going to be considered for this film, which, to be fair, I have not seen, but has gotten overwhelmingly mediocre reviews.

Janet Barnhart

My son, Jeffrey Bryan, has been in prison since 2004 for a crime he DID NOT commit. I have not seen your movie yet but have seen the trailers and your interview. In researching for your role, I wonder if you or Hilary would have any suggestions on what I could do to get Jeff out of prison and clear his name. The crime was attempted rape. The victim said the perpetrator was in his 20’s (my son was 47 at the time) the perpetrator was wearing a ski mask and yet she made a positive identification. Jeff took a lie detector test and passed. There was DNA on only one item (the attack only lasted about 2 minutes) The DNA was not Jeff’s but the Torrance police refuse to send it to the database to see whose it is. Torrance police have also destroyed evidence. Jeff had been arrested for drug possession a couple of time prior to this incident and the Torrance police must have decided to frame him. I hope you or Hilary or someone might have suggestions. Jeff’s appeals have been denied, but he is INNOCENT. Jeff was with me at the time the crime occurred. I am 74 and Jeff is 53 and neither of us are in very good health. But I cannot die with this stigma on Jeff when he finally gets out in late 2012. I live in Mesa AZ now and Jeff is in Vacaville (California Medical Facility) I worked for Frank Wells at Warner Bros in the early 70’s but don’t know anyone in show business anymore, except John Calley would remember me, but I didn’t know him well enough to ask him for help. I am desperate at this point.

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