An uneducated New England woman’s 20-year struggle to upset her brother’s murder conviction has everything Hollywood could want: Heroics, horrible crime, electrifying court drama, ugly divorce, estranged children, prison violence. Though Goldwyn tones down the fireworks, Sam Rockwell’s wild performance as convicted killer Kenny Waters can’t be contained, which almost saves the movie from by-the-book boredom.
Playing the righteous and determined woman part, Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters is one note and no bombastic Julia Roberts of Oscar-winning “Erin Brockovich” fame. Betty Anne’s deep sibling connection to her wayward brother drives her to educate herself through high school, college and the Bar. That way, as a lawyer, she can clear Kenny of a brutal 1980 murder robbery in a Massachusetts mobile home.
Finally, DNA emerges as a factor in the unraveling criminal cases and brings with it some topnotch legal colleagues, Abra Rice (Minnie Driver) and future OJ lawyer Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher).
But DNA is not enough. Betty Anne and company have to convince some witnesses to turn around their prior testimony. One of them is Kenny’s embittered ex-wife Brenda (Clea DuVall). Another is boozy ex-lover Roseanna Perry (Juliette Lewis). Neither of them is too intrigued with admitting perjury.
Betty Anne also has to help reconcile the relationship between Kenny and his daughter, Mandy (Ari Graynor), who grew up believing Dad was a psycho killer.
While “Conviction” never achieves the cinematic depth and dynamics of Richard Brooks’ “In Cold Blood,” it is a movie worth savoring for the meaning it gives to one message: Thank God, Massachusetts repealed the Death Penalty.