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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Determination Borders On Obsession--An Undeniably Appealing, But Flawed, Underdog Story
A sure-fire crowd pleaser, the film "Conviction" is based on an undeniably (and practically unbelievable) compelling true life story. Betty Anne Waters, a high school drop-out with a troubled youth, dedicated nearly two decades of her life to clear her unjustly convicted brother of a murder charge. She got a GED, applied and got into college, graduated law school and...
Published on October 28, 2010 by K. Harris

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, So-So Film-making
Hilary Swank returns to the big screen in another strong female role as Betty Anne Waters, the real life every day hero who changed the course of her life for a family member. Set primarily in Massachusetts, the Waters case revolves around the murder of a woman and the conviction of Kenny Waters (played by Sam Rockwell) - a lowlife type whose only real attributes are his...
Published on November 20, 2010 by D. Barbour


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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Determination Borders On Obsession--An Undeniably Appealing, But Flawed, Underdog Story, October 28, 2010
A sure-fire crowd pleaser, the film "Conviction" is based on an undeniably (and practically unbelievable) compelling true life story. Betty Anne Waters, a high school drop-out with a troubled youth, dedicated nearly two decades of her life to clear her unjustly convicted brother of a murder charge. She got a GED, applied and got into college, graduated law school and passed the bar, became her brother's representation and uncovered exculpatory evidence. But despite all her best efforts, it was still quite a trial to be heard and taken seriously. While I've thrown a lot of the film's plot at you right away, the advertising campaign already covers the same ground. This is a movie about character and the long road to justice as seen through Betty Anne's eyes (an imposing Hilary Swank). Far from a perfect movie, however, I'm sure audience will still embrace this--the ultimate underdog story.

Swank, as I mentioned, headlines this piece with a hard edged perseverance. She is quite believable as the matter-of-fact Betty Anne. Sam Rockwell plays her brother, the town troublemaker, with equal parts charm and menace. It's perhaps the film's most compelling performance and there are moments when he sinks to desperation that have real emotional resonance. Minnie Driver befriends Swank in law school, and though their friendship is contrived at best, she becomes a welcome presence in the film. She stands as the one truly appealing character as Swank's mania borders on selfishness and Rockwell is an unstable powder keg. Ironically, the film wants to continuously solicit sympathy for its leads without confronting the unpleasant truths--particularly that Rockwell was a violent repeat offender whom the entire town was able to embrace as a cold blooded killer.

My biggest concern about "Conviction" had little to do with the actual search for justice and everything to do with Betty Anne's character. She pursues her goal steadfastly--to the ruination of her marriage and the alienation of her children. Her conviction, as it were, has turned to obsession and every waking moment of her life in the film is dedicated to this one specific purpose. I can't help but think that the film necessarily glosses over some of the more unpleasant aspects of this pursuit. We get little of Swank's husband, her kids seem mildly annoyed once but are fine with their mother's lack of family focus, and there are never any concerns at work. More telling, Swank hasn't had a relationship with her beloved brother's daughter in all the time he's been in prison. I understand that such a relationship might have been complicated, but the film doesn't even try to explain her complete lack of concern over this family bond. She calls her niece near the end of the film and actually says in the message-- "you may not remember me." Wow! Seems like some of her dogged determination might have been applied to other relationships as well!

But, again, I don't think any of this will matter to most. At heart, there is no escaping the facts of "Conviction" and they present a uniquely fascinating story. The little guy sticking it to the man, David versus Goliath, "never quit"--man, I'm practically cheering myself. "Conviction" is a good film filled with earnest performances (a drunk Juliette Lewis is inspired) told in standard biopic format. I don't think it digs quite far enough into the characterizations, but the story sells itself. Fascinating, scary, frustrating, and even inspiring--the Betty Anne Waters saga was begging to be represented on the big screen! KGHarris, 10/10.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swank Is Back with a Sharp Cast in an Inspiring Fact-Based Story Bordering on Incredulity, October 23, 2010
After making decidedly wrong turns into rom-com in 2007's P.S. I Love You and historical biopic in 2009's Amelia, Hilary Swank is back in her element as Betty Anne Waters, a working-class single mother of two whose fierce loyalty to her troublemaking brother Kenny knows no bounds, in actor/director Tony Goldwyn's time-spanning, fact-based 2010 drama. Written by Pamela Gray (she and Goldwyn also collaborated on 1999's affecting A Walk on the Moon), the inspiring, potentially melodramatic plotline often borders on incredulity, but Swank's trademark iron-jawed tenacity is on full display here. At the same time, it's a primarily economic performance teetering on lunacy as her character is tightly bound to Kenny since they shared a painful childhood due to the neglect of a horrifying mother.

In 1983, Kenny is convicted of the bloody murder of an elderly neighbor largely on the basis of testimony from two former girlfriends, both of whom claimed he confessed his actions to them. Neither Kenny nor Betty Anne can afford a good attorney, so she decides to become a lawyer even though she's a high school dropout. Also serving as one of the film's executive producers, Swank come back securely to the against-all-odds territory of Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (2004) by following Betty Anne's sixteen-year journey from her GED through college, then law school, and finally passing the bar - all while she was raising two boys and working part-time at a local pub. The ending is predictable from a mile away, but the journey is not. The introduction of DNA evidence provides a linchpin that spins the story close to Lifetime-level dramatics, especially when Betty Ann solicits the assistance of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to overturning wrongful convictions. Gray's screenplay is solid enough, and Goldwyn's direction is assured within the back-and-forth treatment of the timeline.

However, it's really the acting that is aces here. Beyond Swank's sterling work, Sam Rockwell brings an unpredictable furor and a surprising vulnerability to the showier role of Kenny. His rapport with Swank never feels forced, and the devotion of their sibling relationship is what really grounds the threat of hysterics in the film. The periphery is populated by a powerful squad of actresses turning in sharply etched work - Minnie Driver as Betty Ann's law-school friend Abra, whose comic spark highlights how pivotal her character is in representing the audience viewpoint; Melissa Leo (Frozen River) as the malevolent arresting cop, whose secretive hostility provides the impetus for Kenny's conviction; Juliette Lewis as Kenny's dentally-challenged ex-girlfriend with a drunken confession scene that reveals the actress's long-forgotten raw talent below her usual giddiness; Karen Young in a brief scene as the unforgivable Mrs. Waters; and Ari Graynor (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) as Kenny's embittered grown daughter. It's the cast's cumulative work that makes this movie intensely watchable.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, So-So Film-making, November 20, 2010
Hilary Swank returns to the big screen in another strong female role as Betty Anne Waters, the real life every day hero who changed the course of her life for a family member. Set primarily in Massachusetts, the Waters case revolves around the murder of a woman and the conviction of Kenny Waters (played by Sam Rockwell) - a lowlife type whose only real attributes are his daughter and his sister Betty. Believing he is innocent of the heinous crime, Betty Anne Waters spends numerous years going to college, law school, and then in investigation of the crime she truly doesn't believe her brother committed.

Many viewers may already know the ending if they remember the news coverage around the event - much of which involved recently re-elected Attorney General Martha Coakley (who is portrayed only briefly on screen in the film). If you know the outcome - which is a twist in itself - this movie is still worth seeing for the great acting from Swank and Rockwell. If you don't know the ending going in, don't read anything else about the film as the payoff will be that much greater.

Technically the film is a little choppy - the editing, pace, and supporting character development left quite a bit to be desired. That being said, the story itself is so fascinating and compelling that forgiving the films technical flaws becomes quite easy. I would suggest checking this one out. It's a lot like A Civil Action with John Travolta, but not quite as good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful true story about a man wrongly convicted and the woman trying to free him. Very inspirational and moving. I say A, January 31, 2011
By 
Tony Heck (Belgrade, MT USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Conviction (DVD)
A true story about a sister (Swank) knowing that her brother (Rockwell) who is prison for murder is innocent and fighting to prove it. Two years after being questioned and let go in a murder case Kenny Waters (Rockwell) is convicted and is sent away for life. Knowing that he is innocent Betty Anne Waters (Swank) attends law school in order to become her brothers lawyer. This is one powerful movie. I've always thought that Sam Rockwell is a very underrated actor and in this movie he gives a powerful performance. The fact that this is a true story makes this movie all the more inspiring, moving and gut wrenching. This is a must see and I don't want to give anything away, but this movie explores and exposes the flaws in the legal system. This movie is a roller-coaster ride of emotion that will make you address your feelings on the subject matter and root for justice to prevail. Watch this film!!! I give it an A.

Would I watch it again? - Yes, I would make some people I know watch it too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conviction - one of the best films of the year!, December 1, 2010
Loyalty: It something we all expect from our loved ones, but we so rarely receive. How loyal would our families be if we were convicted of a crime we were innocent of and sent to prison for the rest of lives? Would they put all their worldly desires away to do everything in their power to see to our injustice? I dare say that I know that it takes a special few that have such perseverance or such conviction.

Hilary Swank stars in the film so aptly titled Conviction. Here again Swank portrays the real-life Betty Ann Waters. Betty Ann's brother, Kenny was convicted of a violent murder in their home town in Massachusetts and sent to prison in 1983. Betty Ann and Kenny grew up in a dysfunctional home and were tossed around to a plethora of foster homes during their childhood and adolescence. The only family they had was each other. Their relationship was so close and intimate that there was no doubt in her mind that her brother was incapable of murder. Kenny was a self-admitted bad boy. He had been arrested so many times in their small community that when Kenny's neighbor turned up murdered it seemed to be an easy assumption that Kenny was the perpetrator of the crime.

Betty Ann had no money for high-paid lawyers and when Kenny tries to kill himself in prison, she came up with a solution to their problem. She will go to college, then law school and then become a lawyer and find the evidence to set her brother free. This sound like a plot made-up in a studio office, but it is the true story of this amazing woman. And, there would be no movie, if Betty Ann's astounding story didn't have a happy ending.

Telling this story is difficult. But the even script by Pamela Gray provides a good point of departure for Tony Goldwyn's direction and the moving performances by the actors. Without hesitation, Hilary Swank is definitely back, her disappointing performance as Amelia Earhart last year could have ended her trip down the red carpet to win Oscar gold forever. Her performance playing Betty Ann is subtle and convincing. But it's not just Hilary Swank's performance that should be noted. Sam Rockwell's portrayal of Kenny Waters is amazing and heart-wrenching. His scenes in prison are remarkable as he so effortlessly depicts the wide range of emotions from complete hopelessness when years of imprisonment wear on him to utter joy when he learns that his sister has done the impossible. And lastly, Minnie Driver makes a great impression playing Betty Ann's law school friend. It's a role that could garner attention at award time, and hopefully will lead to more roles in the future.

Conviction is one of the best films of the year. It is a story of never-ending loyalty and love of a sister. It is an inspirational and uplifting film. This film will make you believe again, that with desire, perseverance and the conviction to never stop trying, almost anything is possible.

The Buzz: If Sam Rockwell is not recognized during award season, it will be a shame!

To see more of Kay Shackleton's reviews or film industry news see: [...]

-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with focus on the Silent Film Era, see her work at [...]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally engaging with a powerful cast, October 22, 2010
On the surface, Conviction seems like a very mixed bag. There had been little to no promotion for it out here while the trailer hadn't really been attached to any recent screenings. I do recall seeing a trailer for the film one time online months ago, but that's it. Truth be told, that's usually the best way to see a film. No scene has the chance to be overplayed because you had seen the trailer however many times. Conviction is very much an independent film and is borderline nonexistent even though it had a limited release last week. The result was not only an extremely emotional and powerful film, but Conviction also features some of the strongest performances of the year.

The dramatic film jumps around in time right from the beginning. We're shown the horrific aftermath of Katharina Brow's gruesome murder and then jump back to the present day where we see Betty Anne visiting Kenneth in prison. Soon after that, we travel back into the past where we're shown the adult lives of Betty Anne and Kenneth. They're very much a part of each other's lives even when they both have families of their own to worry about. Kenneth's run ins with the law become more frequent as he seems to be picked up whenever the law is broken in Ayer, Massachusetts. Then, we jump even further back into the past during Betty Anne and Kenneth's childhood. They were very close even at that age, but they didn't live normal lives. They were stealing, trespassing, and breaking and entering at an early age. The time jumps were kind of infrequent and abrupt; they seemed to just happen at whim but provided quite a bit of background history about Betty Anne and Kenneth that was crucial to the overall story.

I'm honestly not a fan of Hilary Swank. She's just never done anything for me. The main point of interest for me was Sam Rockwell. Ever since his magnificent performance in last year's Moon, I've been trying to see as many of his films as possible and they very rarely disappoint. Conviction relies on the chemistry between Swank and Rockwell though. The whole movie wouldn't be anything without the connection those two have. Swank is incredibly family driven as the aftermath of her devoting most of her life to freeing her brother takes its toll on the rest of her life and her family. Rockwell is as fantastic as ever as just a simple expression on his face seems to say more about his character than any kind of reaction could, but his emotional outbursts are just as spectacular. Before he went to prison, Kenneth Waters seemed like a family man with a warm personality that cracked a lot of jokes but flew off the handle at the drop of a hat and lost control that usually resulted in a trip downtown. Prison is tearing him apart and it shows not only in Rockwell's performance but Swank's as well.

Conviction is one of the most effective dramas of the year that delivers an impact you'll be feeling long after you leave the theater. It takes you on a roller coaster of emotions that is well worth the ride. All the chips on the table lie in the hands of Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell while their on-screen presence alone seems to drive the film even when they're not saying anything. One of the best aspects of the film is that Betty Anne believes her brother is innocent and even when that comes into question, she doesn't want to hear any of it. Near the end of the film, it doesn't really seem to matter if Kenneth is innocent or not. Betty Anne believes it to be true and that's good enough for her. Her passion seems to be the underlying factor that drives the film. If you're looking for a film that feels heartfelt and genuine, then Conviction is a film you may want to look into.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best movies I've ever seen!, February 28, 2011
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This review is from: Conviction (DVD)
Hillary Swank hits this one out of the ballpark. Phenomenal performance! This is one of the best movies I've ever seen. I don't say that lightly. I am an avid movie watcher for over 40 years. A movie like this one doesn't come along that often. Watch it.
The acting is superior, the flashbacks are artfully woven in and out of the drama. Nothing is overdone or underdone. And, if you have a sibling, it's a must watch!! Brilliant movie....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch it for the Acting, July 8, 2011
By 
This review is from: Conviction (DVD)
"Conviction" is the story of one woman's fight to have her brother's conviction for murder overturned and have him released.

A brother and sister are raised in a dysfunctional family where they receive little structure or discipline. Breaking into homes and stealing things become their barren source of amusement and excitement. It also gets the older brother in trouble with the law at an early age, but the bond between brother and sister have already been established and remains as they mature in society with the sister, Betty Ann Waters remaining within the norms of society married, raising a family and tending bar. Her brother, Kenny, played by Sam Rockwell is another matter, as he is quick to brawl and thumb his nose at society.

Betty Ann Waters', played by Hillary Swank is turned upside down when her brother is convicted of a murder she is certain he did not commit. There is only one thing for her to do. She must get her high school equivalency diploma, graduate from college and law school, pass the bar and get her brother's case reopened. She manages all of these things at the expense of her marriage and alienation of her children.

We see Counselor Waters struggle to get each piece of evidence to find the smoking gun that will lead to her brother's eventual release. This appeals to the audience's sense of justice and respect for the loyalty and industry shown by one sister toward her brother. Sam Rockwell plays his part as a chameleon, loving father and brother with a big heart, to the impulsive ne'er-do-well who is hard to cheer for his exoneration with the same passion, even though you feel his frustration with one setback and disappointment after another. Both bring intensity to their roles, but Rockwell is given more leeway in demonstrating his talent.

Then there's Juliette Lewis who plays the ex girlfriend and current hard drinking and smoking trailer trash, who would have stolen the show if she had more script to play. Playing a half-inebriated slob in need of dental work, you are convinced she is a pathetic character only concerned about her. Melissa Leo also turns in a superb performance as the unrepentant cop you love to hate. Minnie Driver returns to Massachusetts from her previous role as Matt Damon's boyfriend in "Good Will Hunting," becoming a friend to Betty Ann, and assisting her legally and emotionally in her quest.

"Conviction" is original and based on a true story which means, in this case, that it actually happened. I judge many movies based upon my willingness or desire to see them a second time, and I am very glad to have seen this, but I do not plan on watching it again. There are no lines or scenes that will give me a greater personal connection or tie loose ends. A breathtaking story in real life, it doesn't quite achieve breathtaking status in film.

Watch it for the acting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars starts slow, March 18, 2011
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This review is from: Conviction (DVD)
Conviction starts out kind of slow, but picks up after about 20 minutes. The bond and personal stick to it attitude is awesome. Knowing it is based on a true story also makes it more special. After the movie is over, you just know there are so many out there that are still in jail for things they did not do and it makes you want to do something about it. Great movie.. A+
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Wish I Had Something Witty to Write ..., March 14, 2011
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Conviction (DVD)
... about this film, or some profound objection to it, but I don't. It's a grinder and a chopper. It grinds through the 18 years that Kenneth Waters spent in prison for a murder he didn't commit, the same eighteen years that his sister Betty Anne needed in oder to get from her GED to her law school diploma and bar exam in her relentless struggle to exonerate her brother. It chops the life story of Betty Anne into relentlessly miniscule scenes, quick cuts, editing possibly intended to reinforce the painful ADD symptoms that viewers will perceive in the acted character of Kenny Waters. The choppy editing is the likeliest reason why I and many others have found this film oddly lacking in impact. It SHOULD be a gut-wrencher/tear-jerker for some, and a fiery indictment of the class warfare called 'criminal justice' for others, but it never achieves that sort of intensity. The weakness is not in the performances of Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell as the Waters siblings; they are doggedly true to their roles, as are all of the minor characters. The unprepossessing town of Ayer, Massachusetts -- where the actual murder occurred in 1980 and the shamefully framed trail in 1983 - performs brilliantly as itself; I wonder if a town can be Oscar nominated as "best supporting actor". The script and the whole adaptation of the Waters story is reasonably honest and accurate in details concerning the events. But with all these virtues, it's still an "airplane film" in an era when fewer and fewer flights offer entertainment.

The film credits the perseverance and sisterly loyalty of Betty Anne with eventual exoneration of Kenneth. I don't wish to minimize Betty Anne Waters's unquenchable devotion and determination, but the fact is that in real time it was the development of DNA-evidence technology that made the exoneration of Waters possible. Eventually, Betty Anne received the aid of New York lawyer Barry Scheck, of the "Innocence Project". Actress Hilary Swank, who also co-produced the film, certainly intended it as a personal, highly emotional story of a remarkable ordinary woman, so it might be unfair to criticize "Conviction" for missing the opportunity to make a stronger case against the death penalty (enlightened Massachusetts has no death penalty) or to stimulate awareness of 'Project Innocence' among the film-going public, but a measure or two more of social content would have made this film more satisfying for me.

Project Innocence continues to campaign for the rights of the accused and the possibly wrongfully convicted. Not many wrongful conviction result from deliberate malicious malfeasance by police officers or prosecutors, as did Kenneth Waters's; most result from errors in witness testimony. Erroneous convictions are probably inevitable, but they should never be tolerated. As of 23 January 2011, 266 people previously convicted of serious crimes in the United States had been exonerated by DNA testing. Almost all of these convictions involved some form of sexual assault and approximately 25% involved murder. One has to extrapolate from that number and to painfully conclude that the blindness of justice isn't always benign. America's stubborn support for capital punishment is morally wrong.
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Conviction
Conviction by Tony Goldwyn (DVD - 2011)
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