Rating: 3.5 out of 5
An extremely strong true story is told with emotion and skill, but never really rises above the level of a decent TV movie. This is perhaps due to unambitious writing, which never quite gives us an engaging point of view.
After a tough childhood in rural Massachusetts, Betty Anne Waters (Swank) has always been very close to her hot-headed brother Kenny (Rockwell). So when he's arrested for a vicious murder, she refuses to believe that he's guilty. After all of the appeals fail, she enrols in law school as a mature student and, with the help of fellow lawyer Abra (Driver) and evidence expert Barry (Gallagher), seeks to challenge Kenny's conviction with new DNA evidence. But this isn't nearly as simple as it sounds.
The events at the heart of this film are gripping, and director Goldwyn tells the story without many flourishes beyond offering us frequent flashbacks to the Waters' youth, plus glimpses of previous events from new perspectives. While Gray's script bristles with righteous anger, it also tries to keep us guessing about Kenny's innocence or guilt, which doesn't let us identify properly with Betty Anne. Since this is a true story, we pretty much know already, so the whole story is undermined by what's essentially a red herring.
What makes the film worth a look is the cast, and the actors deliver raw performances that give the characters' a vivid soulfulness. Swank holds our attention with solid turn as a steely woman who takes on the system against all personal odds. And Rockwell, Driver and Gallagher are also excellent in roles that are full of surprises. Meanwhile, the film is packed with scene-stealing smaller roles for the gifted likes of Lewis (best she's been in years), Leo and DuVall.
As it goes along, the story dips a little too easily into sentimental melodrama, although this also gives the actors plenty to chew on. And the premise itself contains a sharp look at how DNA evidence has changed the American legal system, offering objective information that can overturn a bad verdict. So if it's like a TV movie, at least it's like one that would win a shelf-load of Emmys.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th November 2010
Box Office USA: $6.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $6.7M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 120 Rotten: 59
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Screenwriter: Pamela Gray
Starring: Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters, Minnie Driver as Abra, Bailee Madison as Young Betty Anne, Loren Dean as Rick Miller, John Pyper-Ferguson as Aidan, Marc Macaulay as Officer Boisseau, Ethan Cutkosky as Neighborhood Boy, Jordan Monaghan as Gum chewing girl, Gordon Michaels as Lieutenant Daniels, Conor Donovan as Richard, Ele Bardha as Don, Melissa Bickerton as Admissions Counselor, Heather Yerebeck as Law Student, Frank Zieger as Ray, Jake Andolina as State Trooper, Sarab Kamoo as Kathleen Higgins, Rusty Mewha as Desk Sergeant, Julia Ho as Reporter #2, Owen Campbell as Ben (as Owen Cambpell), Linda Boston as Judge Freeum, Janet Ulrich Brooks as Dr. McGilvray, Michael Liu as Huy Dao, Tobias Campbell as Young Kenny, Sam Rockwell as Kenny Waters, Juliette Lewis as Roseanna Perry, Ari Graynor as Mandy Marsh, Clea DuVall as Brenda Marsh, Peter Gallagher as Barry Scheck, Melissa Leo as Nancy Taylor