After her brother is convicted of a brutal murder, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) enrolls in law school with the goal of becoming his lawyer and exonerating him. Based on a true story, Conviction is an entertaining if pedestrian look at the legal process surrounding Kenny Waters' (Sam Rockwell) case. Swank and Rockwell elevate the material with compelling performances, and director Tony Goldwyn (The Last Kiss) mostly steers the film out of melodramatic waters.
Betty Anne and Kenny share an intense bond begun in childhood when they passed through a gauntlet of foster homes because their birth mother enjoyed the nightlife more than being a parent. A consummate rebel with a fiery temper, Kenny matured into his small Massachusetts town's go-to guy for petty crimes and drunken brawls. After a local woman is found savagely murdered, Kenny is questioned and released. Two years later, Kenny is arrested for the crime and receives a sentence of life in prison upon conviction. Convinced that Kenny is innocent, Betty Anne begins the arduous process of completing law school, passing the bar and becoming Kenny's counselor.
Although it has the feel of a Lifetime movie, Conviction remains a fairly compelling drama. Betty Anne's struggles as a single mother of two juggling a rigorous course load, night job as a bartender and familial obligations are genuine. Betty Anne forgets promises of fishing trips with her two boys and falls asleep on her keyboard mid essay. Swank gives Betty Anne a simple, determined elegance and thankfully avoids portraying her as a sassy sophisticate or hysterical harpy. Rockwell instills in Kenny a mix of desperation and rage over his conviction, and, while the narrative could dig a bit deeper into what makes Kenny tick, his outbursts of excitement and frustration are equally intense.
The crux of the film concerns Betty Anne's work to find DNA evidence that could prove Kenny's innocence. With the help of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions, and law-school friend Abra (Minnie Driver), Betty Anne hounds courthouse staff and police officers to produce anything that can help her case. An interesting story that is only briefly explored in the film is that of police corruption in the case. Melissa Leo plays Nancy Taylor, a cop with suspect motives and the only female on the town's small police force. Although Conviction follows up with Leo's character, her involvement in Kenny's case could have been explored further.
After working on Kenny's case for several years, Betty Anne realizes that those involved in the justice system do not like to admit when they have made a mistake. The drama in Conviction is never really about whether or not Kenny is actually guilty, but whether Betty Anne can cut through the red tape quickly enough to make a difference. Betty Anne burns the midnight oil for Kenny, who understands that no matter what the outcome of his case, he cannot ever truly give Betty Anne back all the things she has given up. Even though Conviction sticks to the basic facts, it is this relationship that is most interesting.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Per their policy, Fox's screener disc for Conviction does not contain the final transfer or soundtrack. The retail version should arrive with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. If a retail copy of Conviction becomes available to me, I will update this section accordingly.
The only extra is a Conversation with Tony Goldwyn and Betty Anne Waters (10:18), a short but interesting discussion between the film's director and its real-life heroine. Waters discusses the events portrayed in the film and praises the main actors, while Goldwyn reveals the difficulties he faced before shooting the film. Perhaps most touching are Waters' recollections of the unfortunate events that happened six months after the film's conclusion.
Buoyed by strong performances from Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, Conviction is a solid drama that celebrates the perseverance of a woman who goes to law school explicitly to help exonerate her brother after he is convicted of murder. Conviction mostly avoids cloying melodrama and instead focuses on Betty Anne Waters' work to uncover DNA evidence supporting her brother's innocence. Conviction is not the most original or daring retelling of a true-life saga, but the film's participants respect the material. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.