Conviction (2011)

14 January 2011

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Conviction. The true story of acclaimed lawyer Betty Anne Waters comes to the screen in this docudrama directed by Tony Goldwyn, and starring Hilary Swank. Her brother convicted for a 1983 murder/robbery he didn't commit, unemployed, single mother of two Betty begins studying law in order to help prove his innocence. Over the course of the next decade, Betty continues studying to earn her law degree, eventually passing the bar in 1995 and actively taking up her brother's case. By challenging the conviction with DNA evidence, Betty is ultimately able to prove her brother's innocence and win back his freedom. Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver co-star.

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"Conviction is one of those films that proves sometimes, life is stranger than fiction"

Conviction is one of those films that proves sometimes, life is stranger than fiction. The phrase, you just couldn't make it up, springs to mind whilst watching this film, and if like me, you were unaware that this film is a true story, you no doubt found yourself experiencing horror after learning that this actually happened. Let me break it down like this, Conviction is a true story, about a man that was convicted of a murder that he didn't commit, and spent almost 20 years in prison. How this can even happen, is only one element of this fascinating story, the next is how did his unemployed, high school drop out sister, find the strength to put herself through Law School, pass the bar exam, and bring her brother's case back to court nearly twenty years later as his lawyer.

Conviction is the story of Kenneth Waters, local troublemaker but generally a good guy, who is accused two years after the fact of a brutal murder and robbery of his neighbour. After corrupt cop Nancy Taylor constructed a botched court cased based on dodgy character witnesses from his ex girlfriends and the fact that he had the same blood group as the murderer's blood (as do a huge percentage of the population) Kenny is sent to Prison for life without parole. About the only luck that Kenny does have, is in the form of his sister, Betty-Anne Walters, and the incredible bond that the two share. Being in and out of foster homes their entire childhood had given the siblings a strength in each other that no corrupt law system dare deal with. 

What follows is a desperately heart wrenching film, that is played out so wonderfully by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. Swank's Betty Anne is electric on screen as the earnest, wide eyed sister that never gives up. She plays the part with a humbleness that I wasn't expecting. I was expecting Betty Anne to be of the sassy, plain speaking, Erin Brockovich type heroin, but instead I found a hard working, quiet, Mother of two, who accepts her challenge without fuss. Not to say that she isn't human, plenty of times we see her break down under the strain, including the breakdown of her marriage. As for Sam Rockwell's Kenny, who is nothing short of Oscar worthy, we see a man driven to despair under the strain of his life time sentence. The film cleverly ages Rockwell, from a sprightly charmer, to a depressed, broken man, with slicked back hair and tatoos, in fact he is barely recognisable, which is also a testament to Rockwells acting.

The film cleverly draws out the drama so as we don't get too eager or expectant for our happy ending quite yet, in fact for every jubilation their is another set back around the corner. This allows us to feel some of the desparation that Kenny and Betty Anne are going through, and the film, although easily accused of dragging, doesn't allow us to tie everything up in a neat bow, which is far more reflective of real life. The cast is also supported by a brilliant Minnie Driver, who plays Abra Rice, Betty Anne's best friend and other 'old lady' in her law class, and provides some much needed comic relief and more of the sassy head strong type that I was expecting in Betty-Anne. Juliette Lewis also shines as terrifying Roseanna Perry, one of Kenny's former lovers and character witness to the initial case.

This story should be a massive wake up call to the injustices in Law that go on around us every day, and is a testament to the power of family and the human spirit to never give up when it matters. I think this story needed no embellishment and is simply a superbly acted piece of drama that moved me as I'm sure it will many others.

Conviction is out in UK cinemas on the 11th February 2011

 

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