×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Conviction

Betty Anne Waters' dramatic true story is told with too many false notes and unexamined questions.

With:
Betty Anne Waters - Hilary Swank Kenny Waters - Sam Rockwell Abra Rice - Minnie Driver Nancy Taylor - Melissa Leo Barry Scheck - Peter Gallagher Mandy Marsh - Ari Graynor Rick - Loren Dean Richard - Conor Donovan Ben - Owen Campbell Roseanna Perry - Juliette Lewis

An inspiring true story is told with too many false notes and unexamined questions in “Conviction,” a dramatic account of Massachusetts woman Betty Anne Waters’ extraordinary 18-year crusade to overturn the guilty verdict that sent her brother to prison. Although fiercely committed performances by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell provide director Tony Goldwyn’s film with a core of emotional integrity, a less heavy-handed, more informative approach would have served them and the audience better. Oct. 15 release is nonetheless one of the most marketable titles on Fox Searchlight’s slate, with especially broad appeal for the coveted heartland audience.

When not busy bartending and raising her two kids, Betty Anne (Swank) works hard toward her law degree in hopes of exonerating her brother, Kenny (Rockwell), currently serving a life sentence without parole for the 1980 stabbing death of a woman in Ayer, Mass. Pamela Gray’s screenplay flashes back to the murder investigation, spearheaded by a cop (Melissa Leo) determined to nail Kenny, and the trial, during which two ex-girlfriends of the defendant come forward with damning testimony.

A wild party-animal type with an occasional mean streak, Kenny has been imprisoned since 1983 but has always maintained his innocence, and Betty Anne’s decision to further her education (which requires her to first complete high school and college) is merely the latest sacrifice in a relationship full of them. Lest the viewer fail to grasp the closeness of their bond, the film offers cloying glimpses of young Kenny (Tobias Campbell) and young Betty Anne (Bailee Madison), portrayed as wee boxcar children constantly bailing each other out of minor scrapes.

One way to immediately improve “Conviction” would be to eliminate these over-directed childhood flashbacks and provide a fuller, more detailed examination of the trial proceedings, which the film rushes through as if they were a minor inconvenience, to the detriment of its plausibility. Likewise, the moment Betty Anne consciously decides to return to school, in the mid-’90s, is never properly dramatized or even explained, leaving the viewer to wonder whether it wouldn’t be less costly, in terms of time and money, if she simply hired a lawyer. Even simple scenes depicting the toll of Betty Anne’s busy schedule on her family life — the dissolution of her marriage, a missed fishing trip — feel derivative and inauthentic.

Though she struggles to keep up with her coursework, Betty Anne eventually passes the Bar exam. With the help of loyal chum Abra (a wonderful Minnie Driver) and star attorney Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher), she sets out to find the missing evidence from the trial and perform the DNA tests that will hopefully prove Kenny’s innocence. Meanwhile, her regular visits with her brother in prison swing erratically from excitement to despair, as every victory is greeted by an almost immediate setback. These sibling tete-a-tetes represent the heart of the film, and Goldwyn (TV’s “Dexter” and “Damages”) wisely grants his leads as much screen time together as possible.

Swank, adopting a New England accent (like most of the cast), exhibits working-class grit and great maternal warmth in one of her stronger roles since “Million Dollar Baby.” Rockwell, whose manic physical energy always seems in danger of spilling out of the frame, cannily makes Kenny come across as both a likable hoot and a possible threat; he never pushes too hard even when going scarily over the top. Also making memorable impressions are Ari Graynor, as the daughter Kenny hasn’t seen since she was a child, and Juliette Lewis, flirting with white-trash caricature as one of Kenny’s incriminating old flames.

As with most underdog sagas, the film’s triumph-over-adversity thrust eventually takes on its own momentum, catering expertly to the viewer’s desire to see justice served. While “Conviction” wouldn’t exist if Betty Anne Waters’ mission hadn’t ultimately been successful, the film’s where-are-they-now end titles conspicuously avoid mentioning that Kenny Waters died Sept. 19, 2001, only six months after being released from prison.

Tech credits are strong, with Michigan-based sets standing in for rural Massachusetts. Given the often confusing welter of flashbacks, onscreen dates helping the viewer keep track of timeframes wouldn’t have hurt.

Conviction

Production: A Fox Searchlight release presented in association with Omega Entertainment, Oceana Media Finance and Prescience of an Andrew Sugerman, Longfellow Pictures production. Produced by Sugerman, Andrew S. Karsch, Tony Goldwyn. Executive producers, Hilary Swank, Markus Barmettler, Alwyn Hight Kushner, James Smith, Anthony Callie, Myles Nestel. Co-producers, Ed Cathell III, Dama Claire. Directed by Tony Goldwyn. Screenplay, Pamela Gray.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Adriano Goldman; editor, Jay Cassidy; music, Paul Cantelon; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; production designer, Mark Ricker; art director, Stephanie Gilliam; set decorator, Rena DeAngelo; costume designer, Wendy Chuck; sound (Dolby Digital), David Obermeyer; supervising sound editors, Christopher Barnett, Jorg Elsner; re-recording mixers, Max Rammler-Rogall, Michael Hinreiner; senior visual effects supervisor, Mat Beck; visual effects, Entity FX; stunt coordinator, Rick LeFevour; assistant director, Nick Mastandrea; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 12, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

Cast: Betty Anne Waters - Hilary Swank Kenny Waters - Sam Rockwell Abra Rice - Minnie Driver Nancy Taylor - Melissa Leo Barry Scheck - Peter Gallagher Mandy Marsh - Ari Graynor Rick - Loren Dean Richard - Conor Donovan Ben - Owen Campbell Roseanna Perry - Juliette LewisWith: Tobias Campbell, Bailee Madison, Clea DuVall, Karen Young, Talia Balsam, John Pyper-Ferguson.

More Scene

  • Dylan O'Brien, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett,

    Travis Knight on Getting the Call to Direct ‘Bumblebee’: ‘Did You Guys Get The Right Number?’

    “Bumblebee” director Travis Knight admits he couldn’t believe it when Paramount Studios and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called him two years ago, asking him to helm the upcoming “Transformers” movie. “My initial question was, ‘Did you guys get the right number?'” Knight joked at Sunday’s premiere of “Bumblebee” at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “You’ve seen [...]

  • Director Peter JacksonWarner Bros. Pictures THEY

    Peter Jackson Talks Transition From 'Hobbit' Movies to World War I Documentary

    Peter Jackson remains a bit astounded at his transition four years ago from the Shire of Middle Earth to the French battlefields of World War I. Jackson introduced his documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” Friday night at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, four weeks after it aired on Armistice Day on the BBC. [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • Children's Defense Fund

    Angela Bassett, Conan O'Brien Honor Young Students at Children's Defense Fund Gala

    Awards season may be right around the corner, but on Thursday, Hollywood took a break from the glitz and glam to celebrate five high school students who have excelled academically despite facing extreme adversity both at home and in the classroom. The 29th annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center featured [...]

  • Dolly Parton attends the world premiere

    Dolly Parton Hopes to Perform 'Dumplin'' Song at the Golden Globes

    It’s not easy to upstage Jennifer Aniston. But everyone at Thursday night’s premiere of her new Netflix flick, “Dumplin’,” seemed to be singing the praises of Dolly Parton, who earlier in the day received a Golden Globe nomination for “Girl in the Movies,” one of half a dozen new songs she wrote for the film. [...]

  • Lena WaitheVariety's Power of Women, Arrivals,

    Who Lena Waithe Thinks Should Replace Kevin Hart as Oscar Host

    Lena Waithe thinks Kevin Hart could have handled his Oscar debacle in a much better way. “I kind of wish that he would have taken a moment to let it be a teachable moment and to say, ‘Hey, what I said wasn’t right and I want to make that right,’ not just to keep the [...]

  • Christie Brinkley32nd Annual Footwear News Achievement

    Christie Brinkley at 64: 'Women My Age Cannot Allow the Numbers to Define Them'

    Christie Brinkley may be turning 65 next year, but don’t you dare try to tell her what she should — or shouldn’t — wear. “I think women my age cannot allow the numbers to define them. We need to constantly redefine the number,” Brinkley told Variety on Tuesday at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in New [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content