If you're not teary eyed after watching the film Conviction, debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, you must be dead inside. The story of a sister trying to save her wrongfully convicted brother is a legal drama you won't soon forget.
Wrongful convictions are nothing new in North America, from Hurricane Carter in the US to Canada's Steven Truscott. But the case of Kenneth Waters of Ayers, Ma., convicted of murder and armed robbery in 1983, stunned the world because his sister Betty Anne decided to get a law degree and fight for his innocence herself.
This incredible story got the Hollywood treatment, with Hilary Swank as Betty Anne and Sam Rockwell as Kenny. We follow Betty Anne's close relationship with her brother from childhood, when they stole candy and ran along train tracks. We're slowly drawn into their closeness, and director Tony Goldwyn (The Last Kiss) makes these characters relatable right from the beginning. We learn about Betty Anne's intelligence and Kenny's flaring temper, hints at what's to come.
When Kenny is implicated in the grisly murder of Katharina Bowe, Betty Anne doesn't take the issue lightly. After Kenny is convicted, she devotes her life to learning about the legal system and trying to free her brother. She quickly befriends the only "other student in her class who experienced puberty," as her ally Abra (Minne Driver) attests.
Sam Rockwell plays real-life Kenny Waters in Conviction, due for release in October 2010
What follows is nothing short of remarkable, even more so because this story actually happened. No spoilers here, but you'll be drawn into how emotionally intense Conviction becomes in its last half, as Betty Anne gets close to the truth behind the police investigation.
As she often does, Swank takes control of this film with a riveting performance. You admire her dedication to uncover what happened all those years ago, and you can almost sense the entire theatre rooting for her. Swank's moments with Rockwell are also compelling, if only to see the love glinting in her eyes.
Not to be outshone, Rockwell also fills the screen with his stage presence. Every spat word he delivers hits you with thunder force. But his under-stated expressions, evoked when he speaks about his daughter, are the most memorable, and it's no wonder the acting performances from the two leads will leave a lasting impression.
Films about exonerations have been done before, but rarely has one been directed with such well-honed tension, sharp writing and talented actors. Even Juliette Lewis in a bit role as Kenny's ex-girlfriend should be considered for a Best Supporting Actress nod.
After watching Conviction, you'll not only feel a bit ferklempt but you'll also want to learn more about the many people behind the bars who should have never been there for the first place.
Conviction will be released in the US on Oct. 15, 2010.
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