Film Reviews

CONVICTION

By • Oct 31st, 2010 •

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Heartwarming but lacking grit. Why sacrifice marriage and children for a troubled brother? With just two scenes, Juliette Lewis walks off with the movie.

Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) and Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) had a hardscrabble upbringing. They clung to each other growing up. As adults they seem close, but not close enough for Betty Anne to throw away the meager things she had – a nice enough husband and two kids – to become a lawyer with only one client – Kenny.

Betty Anne faced huge hurdles – she had to get a G.E.D., go to college, law school and pass the tough bar exam (the highest passing score required by any state is 86, the second highest is 85 and is required by Massachusetts), and then fight for Kenny’s release from a life sentence for the senseless murder of an elderly woman.

Through nearly 20 years of dedicated work, Betty Anne proved Kenny did not commit the crime. His DNA did not match the DNA left at the scene of the crime. Witnesses lied at his trial. It was an incredible journey, but the real story should have been what it cost Betty Anne.

Betty Anne never gives up and never gets depressed or discouraged. It was an avocation, but where was Betty Anne’s ruthlessness in her pursuit of justice?

Her marriage failed and we do not know exactly why. Her husband just disappears. Her two boys went to live with her ex-husband. She had no friends except fellow law student, Abra (Minnie Driver), who begged to be her friend and unpaid co-investigator.

Yes, it was an inspirational, heartwarming thing for Betty Anne to do. But something is missing in the slow-paced story. CONVICTION does not satisfactorily answer the question of why Betty Anne sacrificed her marriage, children, and personal happiness for her troubled brother.

I would have liked to see them interfering in each other’s adult lives as a constant presence that made everyone else secondary. A closeness between the siblings that shadowed their lives.

Why was Kenny targeted and framed for the murder? We see that Kenny was hot-headed and violent. He had a police record but we are not told what he did or if he served any prison time. When he was ten years old he broke into the victim’s trailer home.

Was he the only one who had done time in backwater Ayer, Massachusetts?

After the film, we are given the updates on everyone but Kenny. Doing online research I found out that after Kenny’s release from prison, at age 47, he fractured his skull falling from a 15-foot wall while taking a shortcut to his brother’s house after a dinner with his mother. Yes, that would ruin the heartwarming story, as audiences would think – karma came calling or, even more to the point, how dumb of Kenny!

Director Tony Goldwyn could have built a darker film focusing on the enormous cost to Betty Anne and her struggles. It looks like a cakewalk to go through all that schooling while working as a barmaid! Her boys were fine and never suffered. Screenwriter Pamela Gray had to cram a lot of details into CONVICTION, but I would have liked to understand the toil on Betty Anne’s family as she gave her life over to Kenny.

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