Based on real events, Conviction could have played out like a made-for-television movie. Thanks to some superlative performances and good production values, however, Conviction is a worthy rendering of an incredible story.
After her brother Kenny is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, his sister Betty-Anne Waters vows to clear his name. She begins to study law, and along with pal Abra, Betty-Anne never gives up fighting for justice…
Conviction works well because it effectively conveys the emotional rationale behind Betty-Anne’s decisions. Director Tony Goldwyn interlaces the forward-moving narrative with flashbacks of different periods in the life of the siblings. It is the sequences of Betty-Anne and Kenny as children that do most to cement their bond. The strong relationship between the siblings offers the justification for Betty-Anne to dedicate her life to Kenny’s cause.
Betty-Anne Waters is an amazing character. Her dedication to fighting for her brother’s sibling is unwavering; she is an incredibly strong individual. On one level, most will be able to empathise with Betty in her desire to help her family and fight injustice. On another level, her selflessness in spending most of her life working to free Kenny is something that is difficult to contemplate.
Writer Pamela Gray does not shy away from depicting more negative aspects of the protagonists. As well as Betty-Anne’s achievements, her concern over neglecting her sons is also displayed. While Kenny is portrayed as a lively character, he is also a bit of a loose cannon. Given his history, it is not a great surprise that he was initially spoken to about the murder.
One character who is not explored in much detail is Nancy Taylor, the officer responsible for putting Kenny behind bars. Conviction does not really examine why she persecutes Kenny; it would have been illuminating to delve into her character a little more. Nevertheless, the film focuses its concentration of Betty-Anne’s journey, so perhaps this would have been too much of a digression from the aim of Conviction.
Hilary Swank is excellent as Betty-Anne. She is entirely believable in the role; from the emotion she brings to her faultless accent. Sam Rockwell gives a great performance as Kenny, conveying both the energy and the frustration of the character. Minnie Driver brings some light relief as best friend Abra, while Juliette Lewis is a scene-stealer in her small but critical role.
Betty-Anne Waters’ story is unquestionably a remarkable one. However, it is a tale that could easily have been relegated to TV movie status. Thanks to the performances of the leads and the chemistry between Swank and Rockwell particularly, it is rightly elevated to big-screen calibre. Not the best film of the year, but certainly worth seeing.
Conviction is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.