Last night, some friends of mine were telling me their theory on Jake Gyllenhaal – that he only makes movies that are simply “ok.” Never any really good movies, but never any really bad ones, either. This has led to them now dubbing ANY mediocre movie a “Jake Gyllenhaal movie.” Now, I don’t particularly agree with the genesis of this theory. Zodiac is a very good movie. Brokeback Mountain is damn near perfect. And Bubble Boy is pretty darn atrocious. But, still, I DO like the idea of a catch-all term to describe those kind of movies that you don’t really feel strongly enough to recommend, but also can’t muster up the energy to actively dislike.

We need a term like that because of movies like Conviction, a perfect example of this conundrum. Here’s a movie where the nicest thing I can say about it is that it simply exists. But that’s also the meanest thing I can say about it. It SHOULD have been something worth talking about. It’s based on a compelling true story – the tale of Betty Anne Waters, who spent a decade going to law school just so that she could help exonerate her brother, who was wrongfully convicted of murder. And it’s got a good cast, including Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Melissa Leo, all of whom are doing decent work here. But, for some reason, it never quite takes whatever step it needed to take to actually become a movie you’ll remember after seeing it.

It’s hard to even put your finger on what’s holding it back from becoming the strong film it could have been. Maybe it’s the abrupt, sorta anti-climactic ending. Maybe it’s the lack of scenes showing Rockwell (as the brother) proclaiming his innocence, giving his side of the story, and dealing with prison life. Or maybe it’s that we never see Swank (as Betty Anne) have even a moment’s worth of doubt that maybe her bother DID do it. Hey, maybe that really was the case with the real Betty Anne; maybe she WAS that sure. But that doesn’t make for very interesting drama.

So, yeah, the movie just kind of coasts along, holding your interest just enough, but at the same time never completely grabbing it. I can’t really recommend it, but nor can I go as far as to tell you to avoid it. If it’s on and you have the opportunity to watch it, then sure, go ahead. But if you never see it, don’t sweat it. It’s not “bad,” and not exactly “good.” It just sort of…is.

You know, like a Jake Gyllenhaal movie.

P.S. – After watching this, I went online and did some quick reading on the real case, assuming it might be more interesting than the real movie. Turns out that in real-life the brother ended up slipping and falling off a wall and dying from a head injury just six months after being released from prison. Wow. Glad I didn’t know that while watching the movie. I think it really would have put a damper on everything.

This review was originally posted on March 22nd, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.