Conviction Review

poster from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

I had a hard time figuring out what to see this weekend. Should I see Megamind, even though I’m going to see it for cheap with the Girl Guides in a couple of weeks? Should I see Due Date, which came out this week but doesn’t look particularly promising? Or should I see Conviction, which I’m actually interested in but came out two weeks ago? In the end, I decided on Conviction (obviously) because I am cheap and not into self-torture. And besides, this is the first week that Conviction has appeared in OUR theater, so it counts as new (sort of). For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s what Conviction is about:

When her brother Kenny is convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in prison, Betty Anne Waters sets about putting herself through law school in order to take on his case and prove his innocence.

Talk about dedication, eh? (Hence the title) This is an interesting enough premise as it is, but add in the fact that it’s a true story and I’m impressed enough to break my self-imposed rule about only reviewing new movies unless I’m on vacation. So was Conviction worth bending my own rules for? You betcha.


Conviction is a little confusing starting out, because it doesn’t really begin at the beginning. It jumps ahead a few years to when Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) is already in law school, and then goes back to the beginning – when Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is arrested – as she tells the story of why she’s in law school to the only other grown-up in her class, Abra Rice (Minnie Driver).

Betty Anne is a waitress at a bar and Kenny, before he was arrested was… I’m not even sure. A guy who cuts down trees? Anyway they’re kind of a white-trash family. Their mom never gave a crap, so they got in trouble a lot, and consequently the police tend to round up Kenny whenever tits go up. Kenny is very genial about the whole thing, but his arresting officer, Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo) is not. She one of those stick-up-her-ass types and she’s got it in for Kenny.

Kenny and Nancy Taylor at the police station from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

“I’m gonna see you in jail if it’s the last thing I do,” etc

This time the problem is that a woman, Katharina Brow, has been brutally murdered. They do eventually let Kenny go, and everyone assumes that’s the end of it. Except, two years later, the cops arrive again to arrest Kenny for the same murder.

Kenny is arrested at a funeral from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

At his grandpa’s funeral, no less

This time it actually goes to trial, and on the strength of archaic blood-type evidence (this is the 1980s) and testimony from several of Kenny’s ex-girlfriends, he is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Now, at this point you might be expecting Betty Anne to leap up from her seat shouting that she’s going to go become a lawyer and prove his innocence, but this isn’t that sort of movie. There are no screaming, sobbing rants with swelling string music in the background. The whole thing is quiet and logical and realistic.

Betty Anne Waters from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Okay, so they do get a little weepy sometimes.

So they do like normal people do and file appeals, and when that doesn’t work, and they have no money for lawyers other than two-bit public defenders, Kenny tries to kill himself in prison. Now Betty Anne’s got a choice. She has already done everything in her power to help him. Does she let her brother die in prison, or does she earn more power and try again? If you have a sibling (or you read the blurb at the top) you know what the answer has to be.

Betty Anne decides to become a lawyer and take his case. Obviously this is not something she can do quickly, especially since she hadn’t even graduated from high school. So years pass as Betty Anne works and studies, learning a little bit here and a little bit there that may help her brother, while Kenny sits in jail growing awful facial hair.

Kenny Waters from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Ugh

Now, there wasn’t much that Pamela Gray (the writer) and Tony Goldwyn (the director) could have done to make this part flow better, because it covers like 18 years. There are big time jumps where it takes you a moment to figure out what point they’re at now. It’s difficult to tell, sometimes, because Betty Anne looks pretty much the same through the whole process, and so (amazingly) do her teenage boys Richard (Conor Donovan) and Ben (Owen Campbell). But since the only other option would be to hire about ten sets of boys who look enough like each other to be the same boys in different stages of development, I can forgive them.

Betty Anne studying from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Or just do a montage of her studying and forget her personal life altogether, which would be boring.

There are a lot of setbacks along the way, as you might expect. Law school is hard. The justice system moves with the speed of a snail in a puddle of chilled molasses, and pretty much everyone except for Betty Anne thinks that Kenny did it and she should just let it go already. For people who watch CSI and Law & Order and are under the impression that it takes about thirty seconds to get DNA results back and about two hours to try a murder case, this movie will come as a rude awakening. Even with the help of powerful attorney Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) of the Innocence Project, it takes them months just to find the evidence in the first place.

Abra and Betty Anne find the evidence from Kenny’s case from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Which technically should have been marked ‘Brow’ not ‘Waters’ since she was the one who got murdered

So it’s frustrating, in that respect, but everyone does so well in their roles that you can’t help but be captivated. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell are always awesome, of course, and they’re incredibly cute as loving siblings.

Betty Anne bails Kenny out of jail from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Aww!

But my favorite parts were the flashbacks to when they were inseparable, troublemaking children. It really helps to illustrate why Betty Anne is willing to alter the whole course of her life to help Kenny, especially since so many adult siblings barely care enough to send Christmas cards to one another.

Grandpa and young Betty Anne from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Here is young Betty Anne (Bailee Madison) with her grandpa (J. David Moeller).
I couldn’t find one with young Kenny (Tobias Campbell) in it.

The depth of their love for one another is what makes this movie so inspiring. If you don’t at least well up in a few places, you must be a robot, because this is a very powerful story. So powerful, in fact, that you might be tempted to look up the real Betty Anne and Kenny Waters and get the real facts of the case.

the real Kenny Waters and Betty Anne Waters from the Fox Searchlight Pictures Film Conviction

Here are the real Kenny and Betty Anne Waters.
As you can see they look exactly like Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank.

Take it from me: you do not want to do this. Take what the movie gives you and be happy. And you will be happy with what it gives you, because it’s excellent. The only people that really shouldn’t see it are the easily bored, action-oriented types.

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