When Betty Anne Waters' (Hilary Swank) older brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is arrested for murder and sentenced to life in 1983, Betty Anne, a Massachusetts wife and mother of two is determined to prove his innocence. She begins her 18 year quest by putting herself through high school, college and law school, to become the lawyer Kenny does not have. With the help of her best friend Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), Betty Anne examines the evidence mounted by small town cop Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo), desperately searching for any clue that allows her to find new evidence and have the case retried.
Review by Louise Keller:
Never give up is the mantra of this life-affirming and inspiring true life story about a woman who devotes her life to have her brother’s murder conviction quashed and for him to be set free. It’s an extraordinary tale which makes it all the more extraordinary that director Tony Goldwyn fails to have us on the edge of our seats throughout. At times it feels like a TV movie, never quite achieving the gravitas and emotional heights it deserves, despite strong performances by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.
Swank, who is also one of the Executive Producers, seems to be naturally drawn to this kind of role: a strong woman with a noble goal and here, like her roles in Red Dust and Freedom Writers, she is credible, even though Pamela Gray’s screenplay only offers a one-dimensional view of her character. Admittedly, there are many plot points to cover but the flashback sequences are problematic.
Like Erin Brockovich, Betty Anne Waters is focused on her goal, prioritising her brother’s freedom above even her marriage and her role as a mother. She can not find a lawyer who will take the case, so she becomes one. Less successful is our understanding of Betty Anne’s transition from wayward child growing up in 8 foster homes to the smart, articulate lawyer she becomes.
The role of Kenny, the hot headed jokester who is always in trouble with the law, is a good one for Sam Rockwell, superb as the heavily tattooed Kenny who uses anger as a tool for survival. Despite the fact they are total opposites, the key relationship between Kenny and Betty Anne works well and we can see the bond they share.
There are many surprises as the film unfolds – as a court-room drama, a David and Goliath story and a crime thriller. Watch out for Juliette Lewis as Kenny’s hard-drinking ex lover. She has two scenes and she makes us squirm in both of them. Minnie Driver and Melissa Leo hit their marks in perfunctory roles as Betty Anne’s loyal friend and the Massachusetts cop who knows how to get her way. There are three powerful emotional moments in the film – the third is before the end credits roll, when we see a photo of the real Betty Anne and Kenny.
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CAST: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis
PRODUCER: Andrew Sugarman, Andrew S. Karsch, Tony Goldwyn
DIRECTOR: Tony Goldwyn
SCRIPT: Pamela Gray
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adriano Goldman
EDITOR: Jay Cassidy
MUSIC: Paul Cantelon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Ricker
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 24, 2011