The 2010 drama Conviction tells the true story of Betty Ann Waters, a woman who tirelessly worked for eighteen years to free her wrongly convicted brother, Kenny. Betty Ann is portrayed by Oscar winner Hilary Swank with Sam Rockwell playing Kenny. Without the strong cast, which also includes Melissa Leo (a multiple Oscar nominee), Minnie Driver (Oscar nominee), Juliette Lewis (Oscar nominee) and Peter Gallagher, Conviction would have been tailor made for a Lifetime movie of the week. Despite being heavy handed at times, the movie is very watchable and compelling.
In 1980 an elderly woman is found brutally murdered in her home. Kenny, who is a neighbor of the woman, is questioned for the crime, but released due to lack of evidence and an alibi for the time of the murder. Two years later Kenny is arrested and convicted of the murder based on testimony of two ex-girlfriends who say he told them he did it. Betty Ann, who is a high-school drop-out, is determined to not let her brother spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime she knows he did not commit. She studies for her GED, enrolls in college, and eventually law school. It all takes years, and her quest destroys her marriage and strains her relationship with her two sons.
Betty Ann’s determination is unwavering. When DNA evidence becomes a new factor in exonerating innocent convicts, Betty Ann sets her sights on collecting blood samples from the crime. She enlists the newly founded Innocence Project to help her. Barry Scheck (Gallagher), eventually takes the case, and the pair set off the find the evidence. An unexpected setback leads Betty Ann to confront the ex-girlfriends. She is sure they were coerced into their testimony by a corrupt cop (Leo). As one of the girlfriends, Juliette Lewis is very believable as a burned out drug addict who is unsure if she should help or not. The other girlfriend, played by Clea Duvall, is the mother of Kenny’s daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Betty Ann is desperate to get to the truth and repair the daughter’s relationship with Kenny.
While the material is very compelling, the storytelling is by the numbers. There are few surprises or twists and turns. However, since it is based on a true story it is nice that they kept fairly close to true events. Though reading about the case online, there were a few interesting elements left out, which is a surprise since they could have added a little more drama to the story. The real stand out of the movie is Sam Rockwell. He is excellent as Kenny. He goes from the fun loving but screwed up trouble maker to hardened convict with convincing ease. Overall I would say the movie is good but not great.
The only special feature on the Blu-ray is a conversation between the real Betty Ann and the film’s director Tony Goldwyn. The conversation between the two is interesting and provides some insight into the movie. It’s actually a reminder that the movie should have had a little more individuality instead of playing like a movie of the week. These are real and unique people and some of that was stripped away from them in the conventional way the story played out.
Conviction is framed at 1.85:1 and looks very good on Blu-ray. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is very sharp and free of defects. The movie doesn’t really feature a wide variety of settings, so there are no particularly stunning highlights visually. Most of the movie takes place in working class neighborhoods, courtrooms, and prison. There are not a lot of chances to show off the format’s capabilities. But detail is still strong in the overall plain looking presentation.
The soundtrack of Conviction is mostly dialogue, a quiet score, and not much else. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds good in that the dialogue is crisp. The score never gets in the way of the spoken words. Not much subwoofer activity except for a few noisy bar scenes early in the movie. Same goes for the rear speakers, which kick in quietly for occasional louder scenes. Like the visuals, this movie has a straightforward audio presentation and that’s all it needs to tell the story.
There is only one extra feature, but it definitely is interesting. A ten minute interview between the director Tony Goldwyn and the real Betty Anne Waters reminds us that Conviction is based on true events. There are some very sad facts about what happened in real life after the movie’s story ends. Though it is short, the interview adds some real emotion to what we have seen depicted in the movie.