By Bill Wine, KYW Newsradio

The courage of its convictions is very much on display in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale.

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Sporting an arresting double-meaning title, Conviction is an inspirational biopic about a high school dropout from the wrong side of the tracks who puts herself through law school as an adult so that she can represent her incarcerated brother in court.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby), who also served as an executive producer, plays yet another resolute real-life person (Amelia, Freedom Writers, Boys Don’t Cry).

This time she is Betty Anne Waters (the film’s original title), a working-class Massachusetts wife and mother of two who battles for nearly two decades to free her brother Kenny, played by Sam Rockwell, who was wrongfully accused of murder in 1983.

As kids who were deserted by their father and raised by a self-absorbed mother — with nine children by seven different fathers — who kept shipping them off to foster homes, Betty Anne and Kenny early on learned to depend only on each other.  She starts a family, he keeps getting into trouble with the law.

With his troublesome reputation, ne’er-do-well Kenny is an immediate suspect when a woman is found murdered, although he is soon cleared and released.

However, two years later, two witnesses come forth claiming that Kenny admitted his guilt. The case is reopened and Kenny is prosecuted, found guilty, and sentenced to life without parole.

Convinced that Kenny is innocent and that he was treated unfairly by the local authorities, some of whom might have had an axe to grind, Betty Anne begins devoting her life to proving her brother’s innocence and overturning his conviction.

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While working as a bartender, the indefatigable Betty Anne gets her high school diploma, earns a college degree, and somehow saves enough money to enter law school and pass the bar exam, then represents her sometimes suicidal brother/client.

Her singleminded and unwavering devotion to the cause of exonerating Kenny costs her her marriage and, as the years go by, seems more and more like an extravagant exercise in futility.

But, with the help of her classmate and best friend (Minnie Driver) and a high-profile lawyer (Peter Gallagher) — who happens to be up on the exciting new realm of DNA forensic techniques and testing not available during Kenny’s original trial — she tracks down those two witnesses (Melissa Leo and Juliette Lewis) and retraces all the steps from the original investigation.

Director Tony Goldwyn (A Walk on the Moon, The Last Kiss, Someone Like You) and screenwriter Pamela Gray take a restrained approach and avoid melodramatic flourishes, staying out of the way and letting the remarkable fact-based story speak for itself as it unfolds.  As we watch, we catch ourselves noting over and over again that it is indeed a credible true story but that we would indeed be dismissing it as literally incredible if it were a work of fiction.

The intense Swank and the magnetic Rockwell are more-than-capable leads. She may be a bit one-note in Betty Anne’s straight-jawed determination and nobility, but before long she has us in her pocket; and he doesn’t strain to make the volatile Kenny any more likable or charming then he was, which was not very.

Together, they make the unbreakable sibling bond believable. And that, coupled with the strong narrative through-line, helps us feel elated for both of them when the time comes.

The film is — perhaps inevitably, given the incontrovertible facts involved and the inevitability of the outcome — a bit short in the suspense department, which perhaps director Goldwyn might have “corrected” with a more imaginative tweaking of the structure. But at least no one can accuse him of playing fast and loose with the documented data.

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So we’ll free 2½ stars out of 4 for an earnest fighting-the-system drama, a true story about justice served.  The verdict may not be unanimous, but this Conviction will not so easily be overturned.