true story of a working-class single mother who takes on the murder appeal of her brother. Only it's more complicated than that. Betty Anne Waters has to finish high school, get her college degree and go to law school and pass the bar exam before she can take on the case. Eighteen years later she succeeds.
Betty Anne's brother, Kenny, is a roustabout. Every time a crime is committed in Ayr, Massachusetts, Kenny is picked up by the police as a suspect. Usually the offences are mild ones. But with an unpredictable temper, he is taken in for murder and armed robbery. Two years after the crime is committed Kenny is arrested and charged.
The brother (Sam Rockwell) and sister (Hilary Swank) are close. Virtually abandoned by their parents they only have each other. When Kenny is tried Betty Anne is convinced he's innocent while others begin to doubt. Kenny's former wife and an ex-girlfriend testify against him and he is sentenced to life without parole.
There are many aspects to this film, which goes on general release on Friday 14 January, which intrigue. How do working-class people get access to decent justice? The corruption and suborning of witnessess. The inability of the legal system to make itself comprehensible to those caught up in it.
The town of Ayr is small and everyone knows each other. Rather like Miss Marple's Mary St Mead crime seems a popular pursuit in the hamlet. Once Kenny's youthful indiscretions mark him, it is difficult for him to escape his persona.
Sam Rockwell (who appeared, playing two versions of himself, in the marvellous film Moon) makes Kenny seem a genuinely nice guy except he can turn violent with a click of the fingers. Kenny isn't the most reflective of men but Rockwell brings out the internal struggle that rages in Kenny.
By comparison Betty Anne is more stable and together person. Through her strength of character she makes it through high school and college, but in law school she begins to crack and is placed on probation. There is an element of Educating Rita when her husband finds out she intends to complete her education and go to law school--he won't permit it. And Betty Anne becomes a single mum with two kids, a job in a bar, and her education. Here's where she tells Kenny.
I'm going to say more about this movie over the next couple of days. One issue that is very alive is that of DNA testing, which here is the saviour of the film. Recent British experience throws doubt on this.