Betty Ann Waters (Hilary Swank) and Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) were sister and brother and “thick as thieves.” Based on a true story, events started around 1980 in Ayers, Massachusetts. Kenny was accused of a brutal murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty.
Well placed flashbacks to the childhood and youth of Betty Ann and Kenny revealed how the siblings, close in age, got as connected as a brother and sister possibly can. Their mother had nine children from seven different fathers. The siblings grew up without a father and practically without a mother. They were placed in a string of foster homes, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Kenny was Betty Ann’s protector, the closest she had to a father.
When adults, both had partners and children early. Kenny, not surprisingly after watching his upbringing, was a man of no limits. He had a sense of honor, but also a ravaging temper. When a woman was brutally stabbed 30 times in her home and her head smashed in and the police pinned the deed on Kenny, nobody was really surprised. It seemed like something he would do given the right circumstances. Only Betty Ann knew better.
When she saw her brother unjustly thrown into prison for life for a crime he did not commit, she decided to fight. She got a highschool diploma, a college degree and then a law degree. Her education took place while she was a mother to two boys, and a wife, and working in a bar to make a living. This superhuman quest did not go without cost. Her marriage disintegrated. Her boys eventually lived with their father.
Setback after setback beat her down. When the mid 1990-ies came around, and DNA testing was possible, new opportunities opened up. There was hope.
Conviction is a well-told story, based on true events and real people, that inspires and exhilarates. It’s an all too human story, one that made me think about the death penalty, the criminal justice system, and the bad hand that some people are dealt just by being born.
But more than anything, it made me think about sibling love. Every person in the world deserves a brother or sister like Kenny or Betty Ann were to each other.