Sunday, December 5, 2010

Conviction (Rhoades)

“Conviction” Speaks of Loyalty
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How far would you go to save someone you love from unjust imprisonment? I asked that question when I reviewed “The Next Three days.”

Now I ask it again.

Betty Anne Waters devoted her life to freeing her brother Kenny, falsely sent to prison for the murder of a woman in 1980. First she got a GED, then her bachelor's, a master's in education, and eventually a law degree from Roger Williams University. A single mother, she did this while raising two sons and working as a part-time waitress.

She eventually uncovered biological evidence that she took to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. DNA testing proved Kenny Waters’ innocence and led to his exoneration on June 19, 2001.

A clear case of wrongful imprisonment, the town of Ayer and its insurers settled Kenny’s civil rights lawsuit for $3.4 million.

“Conviction” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Starring two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank as Betty Anne, this is the kind of role that could offer her a run at Oscar number three. After all, she plays a legal do-gooder similar to “Erin Brockovich (which did the trick for Julia Roberts).

Peter Gallagher’s turn as attorney Barry Shreck of the Innocence Project does not have the gravitas of Albert Finney in the aforementioned “Erin Brockovich.” Oscar-winner Mimi Driver has a meatier role as Betty Anne’s law school pal. And actress-turned-punk rocker Juliette Lewis has a nice quirky cameo as Kenny's former girlfriend.

However, Sam Rockwell is the one who comes on strong as Betty Anne’s falsely convicted brother. Watching his portrayal of Kenny as the years of imprisonment wear on him is heart wrenching. A raw and powerful performance, he displays many emotions – angry, sad, even joyous. Oscar material for this underrated actor.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, this is his 16th turn at helming a film (mostly TV projects, but also the well-regarded “A Walk on the Moon”). Originally an actor, he was listed as one of twelve “Promising New Actors of 1990.” You’ll remember him as the baddie facing off against Patric Swayze in “Ghost” or more recently as the victim in “Last House on the Left.” He has a long Hollywood pedigree, being the son of actress Jennifer Howard and producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr.

Why do we love these films about a working class woman triumphing over the establishment? “Conviction,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Norma Rae,” et al. Maybe because we can identify, no matter what our social status, with the injustices found within society. And watching a feel-good cinematic winner offers inspiration and hope – especially if it’s based on a true story.

The film fails to mention that only three months after being released from prison, Kenny Waters died from falling off a wall while taking a shortcut to a pizza parlor.

Today, the real Betty Anne Waters continues her work to free individuals wrongfully convicted of crime, as well as to fight for the rights of prison inmates.
[from Solares Hill]

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