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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews


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There is a dual meaning in the movie’s title.  While Conviction was indeed the guilty verdict given a man on trial for murder, it also aptly describes how driven his sister was in the aftermath to prove his innocence.

Based on true life events that took place in the small town of Avery, Massachusetts, Conviction, directed by actor-turned filmmaker Tony Goldwyn (the villain in Ghost), revolves around the indestructible bond between Betty Ann Waters (two time Oscar winner Hillary Swank, who has made a career out of playing strong willed women) and her older brother Kenneth (Oscar nominated Sam Rockwell).

In 1980, a local woman named Katherina Brow was found brutally murdered in her home after being stabbed thirty times and having her head bashed in.  Three years later, in 1983 Kenny was arrested and found guilty of murder in the first degree for the gruesome crime and sent to prison for life.  Kenny was an easy target for the arresting police officer/crooked cop Helen Taylor (Melissa Leo, an Oscar nominee for Frozen River) since he had a history of run ins with the law including breaking and entering and trespassing as a youth and having a bad temper that would get him into bar fights.

Through flashbacks that show a glimpse of their childhood and close bond, we learn that as two kids that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and were neglected by their mother, Kenny was the older sibling who watched over and took care of his sister until they were separated and sent to live in foster homes.  Now, years later, married with a family of her own, it was Betty Ann’s turn to prove her devotion to the brother she always adored. Convinced that Kenny was wrongly convicted for the heinous crime, and unable to get an attorney to file an appeal, Betty Ann, a wife and mother of two boys, was determined to find a way of getting him out.  Regardless of the sacrifice to her marriage and relationship with her sons, she decided to complete high school, put herself through college then law school and ultimately pass the BAR for the sole purpose of representing Kenny in court and freeing him, even though it took 18 years of relentless work to uncover the facts and DNA evidence needed to get him exonerated.

The excellent supporting cast includes Minnie Driver as Alba Rice, a feisty fellow law school classmate who becomes Betty Ann’s friend and staunch ally; Peter Gallagher as New York attorney Peter Scheck from The Innocence Project who helped Betty Ann in her fight to clear Kenny based on newfound evidence; and Clea Duval as Kenny’s trashy ex girlfriend/mother of his daughter Mandy, played as a teenager by Ari Graynor.  A standout is an almost unrecognizable Juliette Lewis, who is in just a few scenes, looking unkempt and toothless as one of the two low class women whose perjured testimonies helped put Kenny behind bars.

What we have here is yet another inspirational, true story in the vein of Secretariat and last year’s The Blind Side which centers on strong, unflinching women who, despite going up against obstacles did not let anything stand in the way of their goal.

Everyone loves an underdog story, especially those that are based on real life events and people and feature convincing performances.  As for the two leads, first off, Swank is terrific. I wouldn’t expect anything less, since she is exploring familiar, but nonetheless emotionally, riveting territory. And, the underappreciated, always reliable Rockwell has never been better, offering up a stellar portrayal of a complex character that, as a result of the chain of events, shifts from rebellious hell raiser to defeated and broken man before being granted a reprieve thanks to his determined sibling.

While the end credits gives updates on the real life people portrayed, notably missing is the fact that six months after his release from prison, Kenny Waters died as a result of a fall that fractured his skull. It is obvious that leaving us on a high note is more important than revealing what would only be a bummer.

That aside, I recommend Conviction as a good movie highlighted greater performances.  I would have liked to see more courtroom scenes and more interactions between Betty Ann and her husband so that we could get a better understanding as to why he was not there to support and back his wife in her endeavor. We are left guessing that she was so consumed with her mission at hand that she neglected being a wife, which led to their divorce.

The story does say a lot about injustice perpetrated by what is supposed to be our justice system and the fight to make things right. But more than that it is about unbroken loyalty and commitment to a loved one; in this case a blood relative.  If there ever was a perfect example that defines  “he ain’t heavy; he’s my brother”, this is it.

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