Betty Anne Brockovich

In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley has seen Tony Goldwyn‘s Conviction (Fox Seatchlight, 10.15), and said yesterday that he “liked it.” Okay. I saw it myself the night before last, but I have to say it didn’t exactly wind me up. It’s one of those films that you just want to pat on the head and smile at and offer best wishes to and leave well enough alone.

Conviction is a stacked deck of uplift cards that’s based on a true-lfe story and made in the vein or spirit of Steven Soderbergh‘s Erin Brockovich, but it just isn’t that snappy or well-written or forcefully acted or all that well constructed. It’s okay as far as it goes but Goldwyn is no Soderbergh — sorry.

I don’t want to put Conviction down or make an issue out the fact that it’s primarily a humdrum thing. Conviction has enough problems on its own. I’m actually hoping that others will echo Tapley’s view that they “liked” it so Fox Searchlight will feel placated enough to run ads on the Oscar sites. How’s that for naked honesty?

Heres another honest comment. The audience I saw it with on Tuesday night broke out in applause when efforts by Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) to free her wrongfully imprisoned brother Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell) began to finally pay off.

Rockwell delivers his usual cut-up performance, playing the doofus-yokel brother who’s indifferent to authority or caution or…I don’t know what the character’s problem is, and I don’t care that much either. I do know that when you hire Sam Rockwell you’re going to get one of his head-scratchy soft-shoe-shuffle performances that are mainly about how hip-weird and hip-dorky he can be if the director doesn’t tell him to get down and focus his ass and stop hacking around.

The film “is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, an unemployed single mother who, with the help of attorney Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project, exonerated her wrongfully convicted brother, Kenneth,” the Wiki page says. “In order to do this she earned her GED, then her bachelor’s, a master’s in education, and eventually a law degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. She accomplished this while raising two boys alone and working as a waitress part-time. While in law school she began investigating her brother’s case.

“Kenneth Waters, her brother, was convicted of murdering Katharina Brow in Ayer, Massachusetts, in 1983 (the murder occurred in 1980). His sister Betty Anne located biological evidence and then worked with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to overturning wrongful convictions, to obtain DNA testing on the evidence — proving Waters’ innocence and leading to his exoneration on June 19, 2001.”

Here’s the weird part. Less than three months after being freed on 6.19.01, Kenneth Waters, 47, killed himself after falling off a 15-foot wall and fracturing his skull. He was on his way back from a dinner with his mother (presumably in the evening) and chose to scale the wall because it led to a shortcut back to his brother’s house. Now, c’mon, I ask you — who climbs over 15 foot-walls after having dinner? Who dies from falling a mere 15 feet? It seems a little funny. I don’t know if alcohol was involved or if it was just one of those stupid accidents that sometimes happen, but what does it sound like?

A 9.19.01 story reporting Waters’ death has Betty Anne Waters saying that Kenneth “was adjusting to life on the outside fairly well, noting that he particularly liked his new cell phone.” He “liked” his cell phone? What was he, a simpleton? Was he Lenny from Of Mice and Men?

“Kenny’s had a lot of tragedy in his life,” Ms. Waters said earlier this month. “He was very happy to be free.” So happy that he stupidly killed himself 120 days after getting sprung. Brilliant.