When Katharina Brow was murdered in 1980, the only suspect police bothered to continue investigating was, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell). He was then charged and convicted of her murder which he did not commit in 1983. Two witnesses took the stand at his trial and both claimed he confessed to the murder. The blood of the perpetrator found at the scene of the gruesome crime matched Kenneth’s blood; type O. As the evidence piled up against Kenneth, the jury of 12 found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. His sister and best friend, Betty Ann Waters (Hilary Swank), vowed to get a better lawyer and take his case to trial again.
Years had passed and Kenneth had exhausted all of his appeals except his opportunity to have the Supreme Court hear his case. Dejected, Kenneth tells his sister to just move on with her life and take care of her two sons (Conor Donovan and Owen Campbell) since she had already let her marriage fall apart. Determined and convinced of her brother’s innocence, Betty Ann earned her GED so she could attend college and become her brother’s lawyer since all other lawyers had failed to free her brother and others didn’t want to take his case.
This movie is based on the true story of Kenneth and Betty Ann Waters; Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank both gave performances that we undeniably award winning. You are shown every aspect of Kenneth and Betty Ann’s sibling relationship as well as their upbringing. While both didn’t have the most ideal mother, they made every effort to forget their short comings by stealing candy and junk food from convenient stores and then breaking into people’s homes to eat it, all the while pretending that was their life. When they would get caught, Kenneth would take all the heat in order to protect his sister from legal actions against her.
The dejected feeling that Rockwell exudes during the movie is undeniable. His mannerisms and facial expressions are heartfelt as he takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. The frustration of Swank when she is juggling work, law school, and raising her sons is likewise genuine; all the while trying to find a way to free her brother.
Along with the cast of actors are Mimi Driver and Juliet Lewis which provide us with moments of comedic relief. At times you may find you are crying and laughing all in the same moment. While watching the movie, you might have to remind yourself that this is based on a true story. What Kenneth went through during the movie is heartbreaking, and the fact that it occurred in our own courts is frightening. During a time when things in our own country are not going as great as we would hope, this movie leaves you with an undeniable feeling of hope and that you can do anything you want, as long as you believe and work hard at it; even become a lawyer after being a high school drop out.