The grim truth behind Conviction’s Happy Ending

this true story doesn't end here

Everybody loves a Happy Ending. There’s nothing better than seeing justice satisfied in the courtroom, the family in a final moment of joy, the couple in a seemingly never-ending embrace – it’s all warm and fuzzy and we love thinking that everything stays as good as it looks in that final shot before everything fades to black and the credits roll. It’s a daring few movies that don’t give us what we want, and the fade to black is less immediately satisfying. These movies, no matter how depressing, should be applauded.

If you’re planning on seeing the movie in question here (Hilary Swank’s latest, Conviction) and don’t know the result of Betty Anne Waters’ real-life struggle to get brother, Kenny Waters’, name cleared from a first-degree murder conviction, then consider this a spoiler alert: 

After spending the better part of 18 years becoming a lawyer and investigating her own brother’s case, Betty Anne Waters was able to get Kenny out of prison with a clear record. But just six months after he became a free man, Kenny died due to injuries sustained from a fall off a 15-foot wall.

the real Waters

Shouldn’t film strive to be more than just standard, feel-good fare? Couldn’t we have had a more powerful film (and a better, more complex story) if director Tony Goldwyn had re-envisioned his intentions after Kenny’s death? When asked about her brother’s death in a recent interview, the real Betty Anne Waters said thoughtfully that “It’s sad, but the greatest part is Kenny died free and innocent” — now if that isn’t more powerful than the by-the-books finish of Conviction then someone stop me from typing.

Goldwyn’s original cut of Conviction included the information of Kenny’s death in the end scrawl, but it was removed because some test audiences were bothered by the fact. Instead of selling the rest of us short (and making us resort to a Google search for the truth), Goldwyn might have taken a note from recent literature: A Million Little Pieces features a shocking character death in its end scrawl; My Sister’s Keeper kills the title character in the final pages (though the movie version wasn’t so brave). If literature can do it, why can’t film?

Sure, Conviction is not about life and death, Conviction is not trying to be a groundbreakingly thought-provoking piece of cinema (we can be sure that it is not), and Conviction is just a courtroom drama. But are we meant to accept this ending without any thought? Are we meant to not know the truth? This blogger will take the truth over the gooey feel-goods of a Happy Ending any day.

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