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BFI London Film Festival : Review : ‘Conviction’

If you didn’t know any better, you’d never believe such an incredibly moving story to be true. However, Tony Goldwyn’s ‘Conviction’ (written by Pamela Gray) is based on the real life story of Betty-Anne Waters (played incredibly accurately by Hilary Swank), a working mother who dedicates eighteen years to freeing her brother Kenny (played powerfully by Sam Rockwell) who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

It’s 1980 in Ayer, Massachusetts. An horrific crime has been committed and it’s not long before resident troublemaker/funnyman Kenny is targeted by hot-on-the-case cop Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo). In the first half of this film, we are thrown into a bundle of memories which provide a necessary back-story of the sibling bond between Betty-Anne and Kenny. Having never given up on Kenny’s case, we see an unemployed Betty-Anne spend over a decade obtaining the qualifications she needs in order to become her brother’s lawyer and find a way to prove his innocence.

The contrast between the younger scenes of Swank and Rockwell are depicted with such disparity that it’s as if we are really witnessing them age physically and emotionally before our eyes. The lively and playful Kenny who is hard not to like at the beginning of the film quickly becomes laboured and broken. while responsible and happy Betty-Anne becomes so driven by the case that her marriage breaks down and she is unable to sustain a healthy relationship with her sons.

Of the many themes that this film explores, including a deeper look into the judicial system, it is the intimate exploration of human relationships that is most touching. Alongside the sibling chemistry, Swank’s relationship with her sons Richard (Conor Donovan) and Ben (Owen Campbell) and her best friend Abra Rice (Minnie Driver) as well as the brief encounter we see between Rockwell and his on-screen daughter Mandy (Ari Graynor) are truly moving.

Driver, “the other old lady” in Betty-Anne’s law class provides a refreshing spot of comedy to the often sombre mood, alongside a brilliant cameo by Juliette Lewis as Roseanna Perry, one of Kenny’s former lovers who proves to be an integral cog to the case. With the help of Barry Scheck, an attorney from the Innocence Project, played by Peter Gallagher (yes, that’s Sandy Cohen from The O.C), Betty-Anne is able to continue to pursue the case despite the many setbacks.

Although the film comes across as long-winded at times, the performances by the lead cast alongside the incredible story it is based on will keep you watching. An inspirational story which will touch many hearts.