When a movie is based on a true story, it goes one of two ways, dipping into the realm of over-sentimentality or actually portraying the events in a real and human way. Luckily Conviction is the latter. The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her 18-year struggle to free her brother, Kenny Waters, after he is wrongfully imprisoned for murdering an elderly neighbor. This film is confident that the story itself is powerful enough and doesn’t try to sprinkle too much extra on top. After watching this movie, it reminds me again how Sam Rockwell is one of the most overlooked actors by Awards season every year. Hit the jump for my review of the Blu-ray of Conviction.
The film follows the events leading up to Kenny’s murder trial, through all the condemning witness testimonies, and follows Betty Anne’s journey to become a lawyer so one day she can be her own brother’s lawyer and get him out of prison. If this wasn’t a true story it may seem too unrealistic, that one woman could fight the system against all odds and find out the truth. Not to mention the fact that Betty Anne never gave up, she spent most of her life fighting for her brother, even though she never had proof he didn’t do it, she knew in her heart he was innocent. It is a beautiful story about how far a person will go for someone they love. Inspirational and raw, with beautifully nuanced direction and performances to elevate the story, rather than dip down into melodrama.
Tony Goldwyn does an amazing job in handling the direction of this story and really driving home the bond between a brother and sister. This is solidified in the flashback scenes of Kenny and Betty Anne as kids; they were always getting into trouble and seemed to be hopeless foster cases, but no matter what, they were always there for each other. Having that history really helps to reinforce why Betty Anne is so steadfast in her resolve to free Kenny. She sacrifices her own happiness and even her marriage in the process, but nothing is more important than getting her brother out of prison. The style of the film is simple and allows for the story to breath and exist, no flashy or overly-indie camera techniques. There is a quietness to each shot and Goldwyn allows the film to be about the performances and the story; any style or camera tricks appear invisible.
In order for this story to really hit home, the cast had to be insanely good, and they are. Hilary Swank plays Betty Anne Waters and after watching an interview with the real Betty Anne, you realize how much she inhabited the soul of this person. Swank is transformational and doesn’t shy away from the vulnerability of her character, keeping in mind that there is always hope. Sam Rockwell is incredible as Kenny Waters, a likeable bad boy, who has sudden outbursts of uncontrollable rage as well as a deep sensitivity. Kenny is a complex character, who goes on an emotional roller coaster ride through this film. One minute thinking Betty Anne will get him out the next day, and then due to a legal loophole, months go by and he’s still in prison. Rockwell balances the internal battle of Kenny, who at times is ever hopeful and others, devastated and completely lost. Both Swank and Rockwell deserve all the accolades given to them for their performances and more. They bring this story to life with performances that feel so raw and visceral, inspiring and heartbreaking all at once. It is a crime to me that Sam Rockwell has yet to win an Academy Award, let alone be nominated, just check out his IMDb page and tell me there aren’t a dozen films he deserves one for.
I loved this film and thought it did the real-life story beautiful justice. I highly recommend this to anyone that wants to feel inspired by the power of love and the human spirit. I know that sounds cliché, but this film is an incredibly powerful exploration about what one person can do, when they never give up hope.
A Conversation with Director Tony Goldwyn and Betty Anne Waters: a short feature with the director interviewing the real-life Betty Anne Waters. There’s a lot of powerful stuff in here, but it made me wish there was a longer documentary or making-of included on the Blu-ray, or at least a commentary track.