In the first 10 minutes of Saw 3D, a grim-faced cop enters an interrogation room and addresses his visitor with a curt "Let's get this over with." I couldn't agree more!
So, what can you expect from this seventh (!) and purportedly final installment of the seemingly endless horror franchise? Well, to the surprise of no one who's endured even one of these things, the movie opens with a flashback - or rather, a newly filmed extension of the original Saw's gory climax, in which Cary Elwes' shrieking captive is forced to hack off his own foot. Would those of you who've been aching for closure to this act of self-mutilation kindly raise your hands? None of you? Let's press on then.
Afterward, we're whisked to the present day and the first of Saw 3D's ridiculously intricate killing contraptions, which will find either an adulterous young vixen or one of her two hottie boyfriends eviscerated by a buzzsaw blade in front of a crowd of horrified onlookers. (Make that "horrified" onlookers, as roughly a third of them appear to be having a great time capturing the event on their cell phones.) Beginning with its shot of that silly little Jigsaw marionette rolling into view on his tricycle, this sequence, I'll admit, was pretty funny; I chuckled especially hard when the puppet - with its electronically enhanced, basso profundo voice - shamed his entrapped female with "She's been causing nothing but pain." (Um ... not if the guys didn't know she was two-timing them, she wasn't.)
A few scenes later, we're treated to another surprisingly satisfying segment, in which a quartet of tattooed ruffians are crushed, ripped apart, and splattered - in all their 3D glory - for being neo-Nazis. Hard to argue against that little murderous spree.
And then, finally, we're introduced to the film's main storyline, in which the author of an inspirational I-survived-Jigsaw autobiography is exposed as an opportunistic fraud who faked his victimization for the fame and book receipts, and who is subsequently forced to endure the psychological and physical damage he previously lied about. With Sean Patrick Flanery portraying the writer, this might be the most clever and amusing torture-porn setup the Saw series has yet delivered. Not only does it provide a giggly burst of schadenfreude - Flanery's anguished cat-and-mouse game is the James Frey comeuppance that The Man Who Embarrassed Oprah never received - but the movie's notion of this man also leading a support group of fellow Jigsaw survivors (cue the flashbacks!) is almost too juicy to resist. It's easy to imagine the almost-killed from the Friday the 13th and Halloween and Freddy Krueger movies having similar meetings, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and sharing painful stories of what's it's like to be the last living co-ed on the block.
Other items of note: The convoluted means by which Flanery's publicist is tormented comes with an enjoyably nasty kicker, in that her survival is dependent on her not screaming during the extraction of a key from her stomach. (Fear not, fans: She screams anyway.) Tobin Bell - whose Jigsaw died, amazingly, four films ago - makes an elegant cameo halfway through; hopefully, the now Saw-less actor will get to embark on a deserved, post-franchise career playing malevolent government officials in Tom Clancy adaptations. And I can't possibly thank director Kevin Greutert and screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan enough for their perhaps unintentional nod to one of the most hilarious, memorable sketches on TV's The Ben Stiller Show, in which a ticking red clock starts its diabolical countdown with 30 seconds remaining, and a flash to the clock roughly 30 seconds later reveals that only 10 seconds of screen time have passed.
Otherwise, it's strictly business as usual - incoherent editing and meaningless flashbacks and boring blasts of viscera and (mostly) perfectly fine actors trying to wrap their mouths around unspeakable dialogue. I'd also argue that the very last thing any Saw movie needed was a 3D presentation, as the murky cinematography already makes it damn near impossible to see what's going on in its many darkened warehouses, cellars, and catacombs; the added murk of gray eyewear just exacerbates the problem. (Beyond which, the in-your-face, almost cartoonish 3D effects here are thoroughly awful.) Still, I'll give Saw 3D credit for at least going out - if the franchise is indeed going out - on a relative high note, and actually look forward to the day that some enterprising soul decides to patch together the series' seven installments, Godfather-style, into one chronological narrative. Within those 10-and-a-half hours, I'm betting you could make a pretty excellent 100-minute movie.
Director Tony Goldwyn's Conviction, which concerns the heroic crusade of one woman to free her wrongfully convicted brother from prison, is a strong, engaging offering, well-paced and smartly performed and incredibly sincere. Yet the first time I felt any actual thrill during the film came when, roughly a half hour in, Juliette Lewis briefly showed up in a courtroom sequence - portraying a blowsy, abrasive witness with a heavy New England accent - and lent such vigor, sass, and explosive performance joy to the proceedings that you didn't want her character ever to leave. The next, and final, thrill I got came when Lewis' Roseanna Perry appeared again an hour later, as ferocious as before, but thankfully granted a slightly longer scene, and boasting such horrifically rotted teeth that they could've starred in their own series of anti-meth ads. (Lewis' finest, funniest bit comes when Perry, recounting the false testimony prosecutors forced her to give, squawks, "I was rail-road!", but meaning, of course, "railroaded.") She can't have more than seven minutes of total screen time, yet in those seven minutes, Lewis - picking up where Amy Ryan's Gone Baby Gone monster left off - lends Conviction everything it's otherwise lacking: danger, exhilaration, and unbridled fearlessness. You can picture the movie working without her. You just wouldn't necessarily want it to.
Telling their film's true tale of Betty Anne Waters - who, during her 18-year struggle, pushed herself to a GED, bachelor's and master's degrees, and a law degree while attempting to prove Kenny's innocence of a murder charge - Goldwyn and screenwriter Pamela Gray have extraordinary, and extraordinarily moving, material at their disposal. It's a little disappointing, then, that Conviction itself feels somewhat stale. Hilary Swank, as Betty Anne, delivers an impressively thoughtful and touching portrayal, and Sam Rockwell's Kenny is another in the long-underrated actor's line of vibrantly nuanced character turns. But Goldwyn's just-the-facts-ma'am presentation doesn't give either of them much room to breathe, and on more than a few occasions, "factual" on-screen occurrences feel troublingly close to button-pushing screenwriting conceits; true or not, you're left wondering if Massachusetts law enforcement would really take Kenny away in handcuffs in the middle of his grandfather's funeral service. In both narrative and visual terms, the movie is a bit on the blah side. It's still worth catching, though, for Swank's and Rockwell's touching rapport, for its lovely grace notes (seen in flashbacks, Bailee Madison and Tobias Campbell are quite wonderful as Betty Anne and Kenny in their formative years), and for the truly inspiring tale itself, even though the filmmakers, for perhaps understandable reason, give the Waters siblings a far happier ending than life did. (Kenny died in a freak accident just three months after his 2001 release.) Conviction is easily better-than-average. Whenever Juliette Lewis is around, it even hits peaks of better-than-great.