According to most dictionaries: If you have been convicted, then you’ve been tried in a court of law, and deemed guilty of a crime; hence you have been convicted and are a person with a criminal conviction on their record.
From another perspective people might say; If you believe in something, then show us the courage of your convictions. In other words act upon what you believe.
And so it came to pass. In the 2010 film, Conviction, which starsHilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, both of these perspectives come into play. Swank portrays the real life Bette Anne Waters. Rockwell portrays her brother Kenny Waters. Each are the product of a single broken family. Their mother produced a number of children – what was it – nine children with seven fathers? So the children grew up without much in the way of supervision. Bette Ann and Kenny were extremely close and together they broke into houses and committed small acts of vandalism as children. Ultimately they were separated and placed into different foster homes. But they remained close.
Bette Anne grew up and was a high school dropout and a single mother of two children herself. Kenny’s path was a bit rougher, and he acquired a record of small crimes and was known to be violent person.
A woman is murdered and Kenny is brought in as a possible suspect by Police Officer Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leohad the role). But he is soon released. Two years later he is again arrested on this same charge. This time the case goes to trial, and Kenny Waters is convicted of the murder. His sentence? Life in prison without parole.
As Kenny Waters is led away in handcuffs, Bette Anne tells him – “We’ll get you out, Kenny. You hear me!”
The case is appealed and not surprisingly every appeal fails.
Bette Anne is a high school drop-out who supports herself and her two sons by working as a bartender/waitress. But she decides to make it her mission to have Kenny released from prison. She had the personal conviction of his innocence.
It’s back to school for a High School Equivalency Diploma, Then college, then law school. Eventually she passes the bar. But at what cost – her boyfriend lover leaves as Bette Anne is so determined, so driven, to have Kenny’s conviction set aside, that their relationship flounders. Bette Anne barely has time for her own sons, and tells a law school buddyAbra Rice ( a nice turn by Minnie Driver) that she doesn’t even have time for a friend. Minnie as Abra replies, “We’re going to be friends. We’re the only ones in class who’ve been through puberty.”
The years roll by. The trial evidence goes missing. Still Bette Anne doesn’t give up. Years later, Bette Anne confronts the no longer on the police force Nancy Taylor, who says; “I’m sorry you wasted your life on this.”
There’s your set up. Remember this is a true story, so all of the above are not spoilers, they’re facts.
About the film itself – they’ve had to shoe horn roughly more than 18 years into 107 minutes. Of those 107 minutes, maybe 20 were to devoted to when Kenny and Bette Anne were children. Okay, using flashbacks is okay to visually establish how the relationship between this brother and sister was forged and fused into an unbreakable bond. But the repetition was done too many times, and interrupted the flow quite often. The script had so many shortcuts – the trial was too brief, the failed appeals were never even shown – even Bette Ann’s difficult journey to pass the bar was given short shrift. As was Kenny’s life as a convicted murdered in jail.
Swank is a great actress. There’s no one better than her in showing drive, perseverance, and determination. But the film lacked suspense. It never was will Kenny get out it was always when. So this undercut Swank’s exemplary performance.
Rockwell brought a degree of hidden menace to his portrayal of Kenny Waters. Even though we know going in that he would get out, we still had moments when we said, Is Bette Anne wrong? Maybe Kenny did kill that woman.
Then there was the testimony by the prosecutions key witnesses who were two women that Kenny had been involved with. We saw their testimony but we didn’t see a strong defense attempting to break them down during cross. Do public defenders really care? Do they try? Another fact that was brought into play was the introduction of modern technology – the use of DNA – that came with the support of New York attorney Barry Scheck and hisInnocence Project. Barry was present much later in the film, but Kenny didn’t want to give a sample because he may of thought the sample would be tainted or tampered with by the very people who convicted him in the first place, or he simply didn’t trust the legal system. When he refused to give the sample, and Bette Ann had to threaten him right there in the visitors room in the jail, we got the single best line in the entire film.
While you won’t find fault with the actors, I believe this story might have done much better as a multi-part mini-series on TV. It is my conviction that this film will grab your hearts and leave you with a sense of being alongside a couple of people who were able to overcome some severe obstacles.
But I don’t think you are going to feel as energized or elated as you might have expected. We will lay this on the steps before the director Tony Goldwyn, and screenwriter Pamela Gray, who hamstrung themselves with this scattered and uneven format, and overly ambitiously structured film.