DVD Review - Conviction

Oscar-winner Hilary Swank stars as Betty Ann Waters, a Massachusetts woman who puts herself through law school in order to defend her brother who gets convicted of a brutal, bloody murder. Betty Ann has a husband and two sons, but she dedicates herself to her brother's case, much to the detriment of her personal life.
Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) co-stars as Kenny Waters, her accused brother. He's hot-tempered. He's quick to get rough. He and his sister bounced from foster home to foster home, with all of it having more of an effect on him. He's certainly threatened people before, but when a former girlfriend is found dead, he's an easy target for police.
However, Betty Ann's love and support and belief that her brother is innocent is unwavering and unshakeable. Even when a fellow classmate in law school, played by Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), suggests even a smidgeon of doubt during a dinner, Betty Ann kicks her out the house immediately. Betty Ann's fight to overturn her brother's conviction are not without its roadblocks and setbacks, but she never gives up, even though it takes nearly two decades.
What breaks the case finally is DNA. I'm not spoiling anything by saying this, but what this movie really spotlights is Barry Scheck, played by Peter Gallagher (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), and his work with the Innocence Project. Through DNA evidence, Scheck and his organization have been able to free wrongly convicted men.
While I think his work should be spotlighted, I'm not sure that the way that director Tony Goldwyn goes about it was the best. Goldwyn opens the movie with a woman's bloody, dead body. That death is essentially ignored for the rest of the movie. Yes, I understand that this story is about Betty Ann and Kenny and the struggle to fight a wrongful conviction, but the tone is more like a Lifetime TV movie that provides a great performance from Swank in what shouldn't be her story.
The conceit is that Kenny is innocent. He didn't commit the murder. If that's true, which it is, then the question becomes who did. I concede that what Betty Ann did for her brother is incredible and commendable. Yet, instead of delving into Betty Ann's childhood or putting drama into watching her wait for an old lady bring up a box, Goldwyn should have taken us into the courtroom to hear Kenny's trial.
I cannot fault Goldwyn for wanting to focus on Betty Ann, but without the connection to the murder and showing us the details of how it happened and how it all got muddled during the trial, I was left unsatisfied by this movie. Yes, what happened to Kenny was awful, and exposing that is important, but what happened to Katharina Brow was also awful and deserved more attention that just a title card at the end.
Understanding the many injustices that have occurred in terms of wrongful convictions is important, but a better experience is the 2005 documentary After Innocence.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some violent images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


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