By William Wolf


Director Tony Goldwyn’s film “Conviction,” showcased at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, bristles with conviction of its own in sure-handedly dramatizing a true story. Hilary Swank is outstanding in what might turn out to be an award-winning performance as Betty Anne Waters, who is so convinced that her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) has been wrongly imprisoned on a murder charge in Massachusetts that she becomes a lawyer for the purpose of being able to appeal his case. It is a powerful story of a sister’s love for her brother, who eventually wins his freedom through the discovery of DNA evidence and the intervention of Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project.

Swank is relentless in her faith in her brother, depicted on screen as a restless character with a temper that gets him in trouble with the law. His nemesis is Nancy Taylor, a small-town cop who has it in for him and is shown in the film to have induced false testimony by threatening witnesses. Melissa Leo plays her with the required nastiness and insistence that she is right. As Kenny, Rockwell gives a stirring performance that encompasses his unruly nature, his exasperation at being imprisoned, his affection for and appreciation of his sister to the extent that at one point he wants her to just give up and lead her life as a single mother with her own future to worry about.

The screenplay was written by Pamela Gray, who convincingly captures the assorted character portraits, their lives in a small town and the odds faced by Betty Anne in her quest. The film mounts the excitement of a strong legal and personal battle. Helping considerably is Minnie Driver as Betty Anne’s close friend Abra Rice, who encourages Betty Anne and even endures a rebellion by her when she doesn’t like something Abra says. Peter Gallagher does a good job playing Scheck without looking like him, and Juliette Lewis has an excellent turn as Roseanne Perry, one of the lying witnesses. Jennifer Roberts plays Massachusetts District Attorney Martha Coakley. The film is both suspenseful and emotional in its impact.

At a press conference at the Toronto Festival, Swank and director Goldwyn stressed the point that the story, although about injustice, was basically a love story between brother and sister and that they approached it that way. This idea was what interested screenwriter Gray as well. The real Betty Anne Waters was also at the conference, and while finding it strange to see herself depicted on screen, she expressed her feeling that Swank had portrayed everything so well. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release.


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