Conviction – a movie review

When most people say that they would do anything for another person, this sentiment has its limits. For Betty Anne Williams, our protagonist in the movie Conviction, it does not. Betty Anne goes far and above what anybody would expect another person to do for them, and this has all the more impact for knowing that this series of events really happened.

Siblings Kenny and Betty Anne Williams were best friends from childhood. Growing up with a neglectful mother who had seven other children, shuttled between foster homes (eight), these two were inseparable. Kenny was a hothead, and while he had a certain charm, he was not a good guy, as portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Betty Anne was the more responsible of the two, and she clearly adored her brother no matter the trouble he got into.

In 1983, Kenny was convicted of a brutal murder and sent to prison for life with no possibility of parole. Believing unshakably in his innocence, Betty Anne, though now married and a mother of two herself, decided to get her GED, go to college, go to law school, and prove her big brother innocent. The rest of the movie details how she did this over the next 18 years, giving up much of any semblance of a life, sacrificing her marriage, putting herself through school while working in a bar, all with a single goal.

This entire movie centers on the performance of two-time Oscar winner (Boys Don’t Cry, Million-Dollar Baby) Hillary Swank as downtrodden but determined Betty Anne, who never allows herself or anyone around her to suggest that she won’t eventually succeed in exonerating Kenny. Swank imbues Betty Anne with a core of iron, despite a hefty dose of humility. Her entire life has a single focus and absolutely nothing deters her from it. Sam Rockwell’s Kenny retains his mischievous streak behind bars, and Minnie Driver shines as the woman who decides she and Betty Anne, fellow law students, must be friends as they are the only two in their class “who have been through puberty.”

The movie is good and even very good, but somehow it falls short of greatness. The cast is good yet no particular performance stands out as stunning, and Tony Goldwyn’s quiet direction, with a lot of panning cameras and reaction shots, keeps the movie from being quite as riveting as it feels like it should have been. Still, as I left the theater I thought that we should all have a Betty Anne in our corner.

reviewed by Heather Craig

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