"Conviction" is a good-natured, slightly over-earnest, yet overall compelling tale of family, love and the dedication that comes from such connections.

I had never heard the story of Betty Anne Waters and her brother Kenny, and after "Conviction" I am appalled that this is a movie based upon factual accounts. It's a fascinating film, but the story beneath it is filled with circumstances I would never even wish on my greatest enemies.

In 1983, Kenny Waters was wrongly convicted of murder. In 2001, he was finally proven innocent, released and cleared of all criminal charges. "Conviction" tells the story of what happens in between; how Betty Anne Waters, played passionately by Hilary Swank, fought an 18-year battle of balancing her way through law school, work and raising two boys as a single mother, all in order to eventually represent her brother in a retrial and prove his innocence.

It's a movie about uncompromising love in a time of difficulty and an unbreakable bond between a sister and her brother. At the heart of it all, "Conviction" is a love story.

Hilary Swank is a force on screen as Betty Anne. When Swank gets a role right, she truly embodies the character. It's no "Boys Don't Cry" or "Million Dollar Baby," but I would be speaking too soon in denying the actress any chance of pulling a third Best Actress nomination, or even win, at this year's Academy Awards.

The true highlight of the film is Sam Rockwell, who conquers the role of Kenny Waters in a performance that may finally bring the talented actor the recognition he deserves.

Beginning the film as a lively and charismatic force of youth, and concluding as a weathered and damaged soul, Rockwell transforms throughout the course of "Conviction," and this performance is among his best. Every time Betty Anne visits Kenny in prison, a new wrinkle, stress or loss of hope is visible in the actor's facial expression. Rockwell's highest moments are not those of vehement chatter, but heartbreaking silence.

Swank and Rockwell's chemistry is exemplary. Given the circumstances, it's not the typical type of on-screen chemistry we associate with romances, but rather one in which both actors seem to be playing off one another — a game where talent is bounced back and forth between two consummate professionals. In "Conviction," the ball is never dropped.

Supporting players like Minnie Driver and Melissa Leo are also fantastic. A slightly off performance by Juliette Lewis slows down some of the movie's emotional drive, but once she's out of the picture, "Conviction" finds its pace again almost instantly.

I love stories and the characters within them. When the story is real and the characters are based from actual persons, an extra emotional layer is added. In peeling back these layers, scene-by-scene, "Conviction" becomes effortlessly affecting. Here is a movie for anyone who has ever cared for a sibling the way Betty Anne and Kenny cared about each other, and this makes "Conviction" just about universal.

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Greg Vellante is a graduate of North Andover High School who is currently attending UMass Lowell. He has been reviewing and writing about movies for The Eagle-Tribune since 2007.

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