Katharina Brow's Family Upset by Film Covering Daughter's Brutal Murder
Who killed Katharina Brow, and is Hilary Swank her generation's Meryl Streep? These are questions you might ask yourself after watching Tony Goldwyn's true-crime-and-redemption drama "Conviction," based on a real Ayer, Mass., murder. Beginning more or less with the 1983 conviction of Kenneth Waters (a terrific Sam Rockwell) for the gruesome murder of neighbor Brow, the film is a genuinely moving experience, a tribute to great acting and a movie Attorney General Martha Coakley probably wishes hadn't come in an election year.Looking more drab than most leading ladies might dare, Swank plays real-life Betty Anne Waters, a working-class mother-turned-lawyer whose life is transformed by her love for and devotion to ne'er-do-well brother Kenny.A longtime local troublemaker and bane of Ayer police, the film's Kenny is put on trial, where several key witnesses claim he confessed to the stabbing-bludgeoning murder of Brow.He might even be guilty of it, the movie subtly and slyly suggests. But Betty Anne, who has two beloved, semi-neglected young sons and whose divorce might have been caused by her crusade to free her brother, will have none of it, ever.She even puts herself through law school in order to become her brother's attorney and prove Kenny's innocence. While all of this is going on, the years in jail take a spiritual and physical toll on Kenny, who attempts suicide to put himself and his sister out of their respective miseries.Rockwell ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Moon") has never been better, and I attribute some of that not only to director Goldwyn ("A Walk on the Moon"), but also to two-time Oscar winner Swank. Although based on a true story, "Conviction" was adapted by Pamela Gray ("A Walk on the Moon") and follows the innocent-man-in-prison tropes routinely. One big twist, however true it may be, seems contrived.But the actors -- Minnie Driver as Betty Anne's loyal best friend and fellow law student Abra is especially winning -- make this thing sing and will have you misty-eyed by the end.The film unfolds in flashbacks and features scenes in which we see Betty Anne and Kenny, inseparable hellions, run wild in the streets. Sporting horrible teeth, a brilliant Juliette Lewis comes perilously close to turning into a parody of a low-life loser and utters the unforgettable line, "I was railroad!"Karen Young is memorably slatternly as Kenny and Betty's promiscuous mother. In the film's real-life Cruella de Vil role, the great Melissa Leo hits the villain jackpot. Peter Gallagher delivers more than he was probably paid for as Barry Scheck, real-life crusader against travesties of justice.While "Conviction" is not going to win anything for style, it's without doubt going to be in contention for acting honors.After "The Town" and "The Social Network," "Conviction" completes fall's Bay State movie trifecta.