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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 9:49 pm | Fair 55º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Conviction’

Film tells the true-life story of a man unjustly convicted, and of his sister's dedication to set him free

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Life isn’t always fair, and we don’t all live happily ever after. For some, life brands you as a loser in childhood. Such was the experience of Kenny Waters, a man whose life was traumatic from the start and who ended up in prison for life.

In a sobering biographical tale, Conviction takes us through the real-life experience of Kenny (Sam Rockwell) and his sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank).

Their early days began in foster homes leading to a 16-year battle to free Kenny from unjustly being incarcerated for murder. Throughout their lives, Kenny acted out his anger and built a reputation for himself as a fighter and a bully. Kenny had only one true friend in his life — his sister, who was his support, defender and ultimately the angel of his redemption.

Kenny never was a likable guy, instigating trouble wherever he went. But Betty Anne saw his potential for good even though she was alone in that opinion. Ultimately, what she did for Kenny was give him the kind of unconditional love that few of us ever receive.

When Kenny was accused of a brutal murder in the same town in which they lived, everyone knew he was capable of this kind of rage. When the case was pursued by an ambitious court, his less-than-honest friends and a former spouse collaborated in fingering him as the killer. He was thrown in prison for life. Even though Kenny protested his innocence, he knew his reputation preceded him and that no one would believe his story.

What is remarkable about this story of a societal loser is the depth of compassion his sister gives to him. Betty Anne hadn’t finished high school, but she was determined to prove his innocence. Even though she was a single mother of two boys who could barely make ends meet, she got her degree, graduated from law school and, ultimately, became a lawyer.

Throughout this ordeal, she is given tremendous moral support by Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), another law student who is amazed and heartened by Betty Anne’s commitment and love for her brother.

The roadblocks Betty Anne must overcome include her own brother’s lack of confidence in both her and “the system,” a system he is convinced will never let him out alive. Sixteen years into this process, Betty Anne is befriended by a legal support group headed by Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher). Scheck has had great success in using DNA to prove the innocence of people wrongfully convicted. The obstacles are tremendous, including the fact that the evidence no longer exists and that Kenny’s own family, including his daughter, Elizabeth Waters (Karen Young), believe he is guilty.

It is no secret that Kenny Waters is finally let out of prison a free man. What takes this story to a powerful level is the experiences of reconciliation that occur along the way, especially between Kenny and his daughter. Kenny doesn’t come out of prison a nice man, but his story gives a powerful example of what loving the unlovable can ultimately accomplish.


» 1. The fact that everyone believed Kenny could have been a murderer was a major cause in his conviction. How many people do you think are convicted on reputation rather than behavior?

» 2. The love that Betty Anne expressed by giving her life and her career to securing her brother’s release is a powerful tale. Do you have anyone in your life who loves you with that level of devotion? Is there anyone you love unconditionally?

» 3. The conviction of several people have been overturned by DNA and other modern methods of defense. What would you do if you were wrongfully convicted and then released? Would you forgive or be embittered?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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