Conviction (film)

Conviction (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Produced by Andrew Sugerman
Andrew Karsch
Tony Goldwyn
Written by Pamela Gray
Starring Hilary Swank
Sam Rockwell
Minnie Driver
Juliette Lewis
Melissa Leo
Peter Gallagher
Music by Paul Cantelon
Cinematography Adriano Goldman
Editing by Jay Cassidy
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release date(s) September 11, 2010 (2010-09-11) (Toronto)
October 15, 2010 (2010-10-15) (United States)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12.5 million[1]
Box office $9,710,055[1]

Conviction is a 2010 drama film directed by Tony Goldwyn. It stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters and Sam Rockwell as her brother Kenneth "Kenny" Waters. The film premiered on September 11, 2010, at the Toronto Film Festival and was released on October 15, 2010.[1][2]



The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, a single mother who works tirelessly to free her wrongfully convicted brother Kenny. The story unfolds in flashbacks, and the film opens with the scene of a brutal murder in Massachusetts in 1980. We soon see that Betty Anne's life in many ways revolves around her brother, who is now in jail for the murder. Despite Kenny's knack for getting in trouble, they have always been close. Two years after his release as a suspect in the 1980 murder of Katharina Brow in Ayer, Massachusetts, "new" testimony from two witnesses lead police to arrest Kenny and he is tried. Based on this circumstantial evidence, Kenny is convicted in 1983 of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The three main witnesses against him are Sergeant Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo) from the local police department, his ex-wife, Brenda (Clea DuVall), and his ex-girlfriend, Roseanna (Juliette Lewis).

Three years later, Betty Anne lives with her husband, Rick (Loren Dean) and two sons, Richard and Ben. She is frantic that she has not heard from Kenny, who calls her every week, and she is finally told that he tried to commit suicide in prison. Betty Anne decides to go back to school and become a lawyer so she can free him, but her husband is skeptical and unsupportive, and eventually they split up. As Betty Anne struggles with being a working mother going to law school at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, we see flashbacks of her life growing up with Kenny. Their mother was callous and uncaring, allowing her eight children (by seven different fathers) to grow up almost feral. Kenny and Betty Anne were very close, and used to break into neighborhood homes together just to feel like part of a normal family, until they were sent to separate foster homes. She continues to visit him, working in a bar while going to school, until her sons decide to move in with their Dad. Struggling in school, demoralized and exhausted, she stops going to classes, until a friend from school, played by Minnie Driver, comes to her house and prods her to just get up, get dressed, and get back to class.

In her study group, Betty Anne learns about the new field of DNA testing and realizes this could be the key to overturning Kenny's conviction. She contacts attorney Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project. The backlog of cases will mean waiting more than a year unless she can pass the bar and find the blood evidence from Kenny's trial herself to have it tested. At first she is stonewalled, then told the evidence was destroyed, but she refuses to give up, and she and her friend Abra (Minnie Driver) embark an an odyssey to recover any evidence that might still be stored away somewhere. At the time of the trial, Kenny's blood type was shown to be identical to the killer's but DNA testing didn't exist. In the process, Betty Anne learns from an acquaintance who is now a police officer that Nancy Taylor was fired from the police department for fabricating evidence in another case. This deepens Betty Anne's suspicions about Kenny's conviction and the "evidence" given at trial. Finally the DNA results come back and establish that the blood was not Kenny's. Betty Anne and Kenny are overjoyed and think he is about to be released, after 16 years in prison, but Martha Coakley, of the District Attorney's office, refuses to vacate the conviction. They claim there was still enough evidence to convict Kenny as an accomplice, and Kenny is convinced that no matter what they do the authorities will find a way to keep him in prison to avoid admitting to a botched prosecution. Betty Anne is heartbroken but again refuses to give up.

Betty Anne, Abra, and Barry Scheck visit the other two trial witnesses, Kenny's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend. Both tearfully admit that Sergeant Nancy Taylor coerced them into perjuring themselves at the trial in order to get a conviction. With an affidavit from Kenny's ex-wife and the DNA evidence, Kenny's conviction is vacated and he is freed from prison after 18 years in June 2001. Betty Anne is able to persuade his daughter, Mandy (Ari Graynor), who he had only known as a small child, that he never stopped trying to reach out to her while he was in prison despite his ex-wife's efforts to estrange them. He is able to reconnect with his daughter and is reunited with his sister, and her sons.

The epilogue states that Betty Anne secured a large civil settlement from the City of Ayer for Kenny's wrongful conviction, but former Sergeant Nancy Taylor could not be charged with a crime because the statute of limitations had expired. Katharina Brow's real murderer has not been found. [3]



Production began in February 2009 in Dexter, Michigan.[4][5] Filming also took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Chelsea, Michigan and Ypsilanti, Michigan.[6][7] In Ypsilanti, filming took place in the historic Depot Town at a restaurant called Sidetrack Bar & Grill. The script was written by Pamela Gray. The poster was released June 21, 2010.[8]


Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 68% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 171 reviews, with an average score of 6.3/10. The critical consensus is: Less compelling – and more manipulative – than it should be, Conviction benefits from its compelling true story and a pair of solid performances from Swank and Rockwell.[9] Another review aggregator Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, indicating "generally positive reviews".[10]

Martha Coakley, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who was portrayed in the film, commented after seeing a pre-screening on October 12, 2010, that it was a compelling film but there were legal inaccuracies or temporal exaggerations.[11] Family members of Katharina Brow, the murder victim, have criticized the film company and Hilary Swank for failing to consult the family on the movie's depiction of their mother.[12] Betty Anne Waters has explained that the victims' family did not contact her or Kenneth Waters when he was exonerated, nor did they offer any condolence when he passed away.

Conviction was better treated than the 1939 film Let us live directed by John Brahm. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts pressured the studio to drop the film because the case embarrassed them. An innocent man came within hours of being executed. In response, the studio drastically cut the budget and did no promotion. TCM recently brought it out of obscurity.


Year Award Category Nominee Result
2010 Broadcast Film Critics Association Supporting Actor Sam Rockwell Nominated
2010 SAG Award Best Female Actor, Lead Hilary Swank Nominated


On September 6, 2001, Kenneth Waters fell from a 15-foot wall while taking a shortcut to his brother's house after a dinner with his mother.[13] He slipped and fell, dying from injuries related to head trauma, just six months after his release from prison.[14][15] In 2009, the town of Ayer and its insurers agreed to settle his estate's civil rights lawsuit for $3.4 million.[16] Kenny's death is not mentioned in the film.[17] It is mentioned in the DVD extras, in an interview with Tony Goldwyn & Betty Anne Waters.


  1. ^ a b c Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Locally Shot Conviction getting limited release
  3. ^ "Kenny Waters", The Innocence Project
  4. ^ Jay A. Fernandez (March 1, 2009). "Loren Dean joins Hilary Swank in 'Waters'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2009-03-14. [dead link]
  5. ^ Dave McNary (February 24, 2009). "Melissa Leo jumps into 'Waters'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  6. ^ "Filming in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor". Filming in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor. Retrieved 2011-06-22. 
  7. ^ "filming in Ann Arbor". filming in Ann Arbor. Retrieved 2011-06-22. 
  8. ^ "Conviction Poster". The Film Stage. June 21, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-21. 
  9. ^ "Conviction Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-01-19. 
  10. ^ "Conviction Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  11. ^ Gelzinis, Peter, "Martha Coakley: Movie’s ‘inaccurate’ but a ‘delight’", The Boston Herald, Thursday, October 14, 2010
  12. ^ Tourtellotte, Bob, "Hilary Swank film draws ire of victim's family", Reuters, Los Angeles, Thu Oct 14, 2010
  13. ^ article: "Wrongly convicted man gets $3.4M."
  14. ^ "Man Wrongly Imprisoned Dies", Associated Press, Middletown, Rhode Island, September 19, 2001
  15. ^ Boston Globe article: "Town of Ayer and insurers pay millions to estate of wrongly convicted man."
  16. ^ Jonathan Saltzman, Ayer to pay $3.4m for unjust conviction, The Boston Globe, July 15, 2009.
  17. ^ Robin Pogrebin (Ocrober 12, 2010). From Waitress to Brother’s Savior, Then Hollywood Hero. NYTimes. Retrieved 2011-08-08.

Further reading

External links

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