Film of the Week
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell
Friday 14 January 2011
The facts of this true story are truly remarkable, so it's a pity that Tony Goldwyn's TV movie-style drama has contrived to muffle rather than magnify them.
Hilary Swank plays Betty Anne Waters, a tough working-class woman from Massachusetts whose beloved older brother, Kenny, was convicted for murder in 1983. Only she believed in his innocence, and, unable to afford legal help, put herself through law school in order to represent him. Pamela Gray's screenplay emphasises the hardscrabble upbringing of the two siblings, shunted around foster homes at the whim of their feckless mother, and takes a risk in portraying Kenny (Sam Rockwell) as a petty criminal in boyhood and an asshole in adulthood – but not, it seems, a murderer. Betty Anne's quest for justice toils through 18 years of self-sacrifice and heartache, including the defection of her two teenage sons to their father's care, yet despite the best efforts of Swank the sudden reversals and hard-won triumphs feel clogged and deeply predictable. There is, though, one stand-out performance by Juliette Lewis as a snaggle-toothed perjurer, reappearing years after her damning evidence sent Kenny down. It's really just one scene, yet Lewis's sloppy rant and drink-fuelled remorse are wonderfully compelling, and just a bit sinister. Methinks a Supporting Actress Oscar beckons.
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