“Conviction” opens with a look at a bloody crime scene. The camera moves throughout a house punctuated with blood that is smattered in different areas before it finally settles on the victim on the bedroom floor. At this very moment the viewer has no idea who this person is, why they were killed or who might have committed such a heinous crime. This is a fitting opening sequence for a film that truly only focuses on one side of the affectations of murder. After all, the film is about a brother-sister relationship; not so much a murder investigation.
The film tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters and her attempt to free her brother Kenny from a murder conviction. Flashbacks to their childhood emphasize the siblings’ bond, relying on each other in the face of a disconnected mother which eventually lands the two in separate foster homes. Kenny is given a life without parole sentence, so she decides to dedicate her life to getting him exonerated. She enrolls in law school, hoping to pass the bar exam and act as her brother’s attorney. This dedication comes at the price of her marriage, and eventually her two sons don’t want to live with her anymore either.
From the start, Kenny is portrayed as a troublemaker with a criminal history. When someone makes a comment about the way he’s raising his daughter at the local bar, Kenny threatens his life with a broken beer bottle in his face after punching him to the ground. This leaves everyone sure that Kenny could be capable of committing the murder, except for Betty Anne. Betty Anne claims that she knows Kenny didn’t commit the murder, but really she just believes that to be the case. This certainly gives Betty Anne some added complexity. Her bond with her brother is so strong that she appears to have developed tunnel vision. She won’t consider any other outcome besides her brother being innocent, and when her best friend(Minnie Driver) suggests otherwise Betty Anne throws her out of her house. This complexity is also a weakness to the film, though, as it makes it harder for the audience to identify with, and invest in, Betty Anne’s situation.
Hilary Swank looks nothing like the real Betty Anne Waters, and the same can be said for Sam Rockwell in his portrayal of Kenny. It appears as though the filmmakers were more concerned with the story itself than the real-life people it impacted. The entire cast does solid work, but there’s nothing on display that screams an Oscar nomination. Minnie Driver brings comic relief to the dramatic proceedings as Betty Anne’s classmate and confidant. Juliette Lewis does fine work but her role is low profile, and Peter Gallagher isn’t given much to do at all. Melissa Leo has the best moments as the police officer Nancy Taylor.
“Conviction” is a fine movie that tells a story that is so convoluted and bizarre that it almost couldn’t be made up. To its credit, it does so with a rather human approach, especially with all the humor sprinkled throughout. In some ways it doesn’t feel complete, but perhaps that isn’t the fault of the movie. There’s no big trial or courtroom scene at the end, although it would definitely be expected given the subject matter. This is not the type of film that leaves a lasting impression. People with circumstances similar to Betty Anne and Kenny’s might be affected, but that doesn’t account for everyone. After all, that woman from the opening sequence? She’s still deceased.
“Conviction” opens in theaters throughout McHenry County on October 15th.