Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Film Review: Conviction

Inspirational true story about a Massachusetts woman’s 18-year struggle to further her education, earn a law degree, and reverse the murder conviction of her older brother.

I saw this film with my husband, son and son's girlfriend. I'd give it FIVE stars unlike some. Maybe that's because it rings so true or because we here know how much the Innocence Project does for justice and the innocent. Yet, I'm pretty picky about films and literature and I found the writing to be both magnificent, believable and even funny at times. Did any of you readers see it? If so, let us know in comments what you thought? Connie

Oct 14, 2010

-By Kevin Lally

For original posting here

For movie details, please click here.
Hilary Swank has won two Oscars playing working-class underdogs, and she’s back on familiar turf in Conviction as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts single mother and high-school dropout who embarks on an 18-year quest to earn a law degree and win the freedom of her brother Kenneth, a hellion serving a life sentence for a murder she fully believes he did not commit. Like Erin Brockovich, it’s an inspirational tale of dogged determination embodied by a most unlikely heroine. The movie itself is less remarkable than the story behind it, but it benefits from Tony Goldwyn’s low-key direction and a very solid supporting cast.

From the glimpses we get of his life before prison, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell) is a magnet for trouble. He and Betty Anne are two of nine kids sired by seven different fathers and shuttled through foster care. Growing up, the exceptionally close pair get their kicks stealing candy and find refuge by breaking into trailer homes. As an adult, the volatile Kenneth is fingered as a suspect in the gruesome robbery and murder of an elderly neighborhood woman, and convicted when two bitter ex-girlfriends give damning testimony for the prosecution.

Betty Anne refuses to accept the verdict and, spurred by her brother’s suicide attempt in prison, earns a high-school diploma and a college degree, all with the goal of attending law school and passing the bar while raising two young boys. At law school, she makes an invaluable friend in fellow student Abra (Minnie Driver), who becomes her chief ally and moral support in this daunting mission. Advances in DNA testing since Kenneth’s trial are Betty Anne’s greatest hope, but the novice lawyer must first battle a bureaucracy that insists the original evidence has been destroyed.

Conviction features more thick Massachusetts accents than a Ben Affleck double bill, and Swank’s saintly, salt-of-the-earth demeanor doesn’t offer many surprises. Still, there’s no denying that Betty Anne Waters’ odyssey is an extremely admirable study in resoluteness and familial devotion. Lending more edge and flavor to the story is the gifted Rockwell, who makes a stunning transformation from cocky, charismatic pre-trial bad boy to deflated, angry, prematurely aging lifer. Rockwell’s performance is also just abrasive enough to cast some doubt on his innocence and make his sister’s faith all the more exceptional.

Driver is delightful as the kind of saucy, loyal friend anyone would cherish, and Melissa Leo ( Frozen River) is persuasive as a local cop whose ethics may be suspect. Appearing in only two scenes, Juliette Lewis steals her screen time as an ex-flame of Kenneth’s who brings scary hilarity to her interpretation of “white trash.”

Screenwriter Pamela Gray, who wrote Goldwyn’s acclaimed 1999 romantic drama A Walk on the Moon, has a lot of ground to cover here, and some of the details of the Waters saga—especially Betty Anne’s accelerated education and the brief scenes of the trial—feel sketchy. There are even flashbacks within flashbacks, as Gray and Goldwyn try to convey a sense of Betty Anne and Kenneth’s childhood bond and broken home.

End titles reveal that Betty Anne Waters, who still works at the same pub depicted in the movie, volunteers for the Innocence Project, an organization co-founded by her co-attorney Barry Scheck, which helps exonerate prisoners through DNA testing. The titles don’t tell you that Kenneth Waters succumbed to a fatal fall just six months after winning his freedom—a sad twist of fate that might have burdened Conviction’s own quest to be the feel-good inspirational movie of fall 2010.

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