Where there's Hilary Swank, there's a dramatic--usually depressing--movie based on a true story. Conviction is no exception to the Swank rule of thumb. Also starring the increasingly amazing and filmically bankable Sam Rockwell as Kenny Waters, Betty Anne Waters' (Swank) wrongfully accused and convicted brother, Conviction packs an emotional wallop that few other movies of 2010 have possessed.
Alternating seamlessly between different periods of time in the lives of the two siblings, Pamela Gray's script builds credibly upon the bond shared by Kenny and Betty Anne, who grew up with a mother best described as absentee, leading them to be shuffled through a number of foster homes in the Ayer, Massachusetts area. The strife they endured during their childhood continued to strengthen their attachment to each other, one example being their penchant for breaking into people's houses and fantasizing that it was their own. When a cop comes to apprehend them for this minor offense, both fight to protect one another, Kenny ultimately being the one to allow himself to get taken in to the station, while Betty Anne manages to run away (in a very Forrest Gump inspired moment involving Kenny screaming, "Run, Betty Anne, run!").
This history of delinquent behavior most definitely comes back to haunt the Waterses. Since Kenny is already somewhat notorious for his nominal crimes (what's a bar brawl here or there?), he is automatically brought in by the police for questioning in the murder of a local German woman named Katharina Brow. With no linking evidence, the police are forced to release Kenny, much to the irritation of one policewoman in particular (why are female police officers always so much bitchier anyway?), Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo). Two years later, Taylor is able to arrest Kenny again for the murder charge, alleging that the samples of the blood at the scene of the crime match his. Kenny takes the accusation in stride, assuming nothing will come of it. But oh how wrong he was.
Kenny's wife and ex-girlfriend (played by Juliette Lewis in her very well-cultivated white trash manner) both testify against him, confirming that he spoke about getting away with the murder on at least one occasion. Needless to say, Kenny is fucked and ends up being convicted for all counts brought against him. Betty Anne then begins an eighteen-year long crusade to free Kenny from prison, enrolling in law school and enduring a crushing divorce from her husband, who does not believe in her cause whatsoever, as a result of how consumed she is with getting Kenny out.
Her break in the case arrives around 1992, when new DNA technology becomes available (oh the 90s, such simpler times), and Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher) aids Betty Anne in reopening the case to prove that Kenny's DNA was not present at the crime scene. Of course, this isn't enough to automatically ensure Kenny will be released. In fact, the obstacles Betty Anne must still face in order to secure Kenny's liberation seem only just to begin when she is told that the witnesses from the case would have to recant their statements for the verdict to be overturned. Even so, I think you all know how it ends up playing out, per the Hilary Swank film formula: Protagonist endures an obscene amount of difficulty and people telling her she's a piece of shit who shouldn't keep trying, and then she fundamentally proves all naysayers wrong by triumphing and achieving her goal.