Don't get me wrong, the real life inspiration for this is incredible. The amount of love, dedication, and energy that Betty Ann Waters must have put into this quest must have been extraordinary. It is not just anyone who could have done what she did. I don't think I have it me to do it, as much as I hate to say it. Of course, I hope to never be in anything remotely similar.
The movie tells the story of Betty Ann and Kenny Waters, sister and brother played by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. They grew up with a father who wasn't around and a mother who I am willing to bet they wish wasn't around. They also spent time in a number of foster homes always supporting each other every step of the way. As grown ups Kenny has shown himself to be a potential alcoholic, with all of the moods that go with it. In short, he is not always the nicest of guys.
This does not help him when he is picked up on suspicion of murder. He also does not help himself in the condescending manner that he treats the arresting officer (Melissa Leo) with. This leads to his being railroaded by the officer, his girlfriend, and a ditzy waitress (Juliette Lewis). He quickly finds himself convicted of a brutal murder and this is where the story begins.
The details of the film are all a matter of public record, not that I ever knew of it prior to the film. Learning about while I watched the movie gave me a lot of respect for what Betty Ann did. What did she do? Well, she just about gave up her life as she put herself through law school in order to become a lawyer in order to take on her brothers case in order to prove his innocence. It is a process that spanned nearly two decades. That is incredible dedication.
If you have seen the trailer and get the gist of the story you can probably guess how it is going to end (this is an inspirational tale, so don't expect to be sad). Still, even knowing the way it is going to go, there are still a few effective sequences. These include a third act interview with Juliette Lewis's character, a scene at an office looking for evidence, and that early sequence when Kenny is arrested.
The problem is that the overall feel of the movie is a Lifetime movie with a big budget. It is a film designed to inspire and make you feel good. The best I can guess is that this movie is just not for me. It is not a big screen movie for me.
The best thing about the movie and the reason you should see it can be summed up in two words: Sam Rockwell. The man may be the supporting player in the Hilary Swank show, but he is as fantastic as ever. He embodies Kenny Waters completely. He brings depth, layers, and reality to a character that probably did not need as much as he gave. He shows all the sides of Kenny, he does not water it down, he plays it to the hilt and has given us another fascinating performance.
Bottomline. Not a terrible movie, but aside from Rockwell's great work it is not one that anyone should feel the need to rush out and see. It certainly is a great story, it just doesn't make for great cinema, or at least it doesn't here.