By Erin Smith
A new kind of political advertisement released just three weeks before the election depicts Attorney General Martha Coakley as an “evil b
h” and comes from an unlikely source: Hollywood.
The movie Conviction opens in several Boston area theaters this weekend and Coakley plays the movie’s villain — the district attorney portrayed as ignoring DNA evidence and stalling the release of an innocent man who was sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank is already receiving Oscar buzz for her role in the true story of Betty Anne Waters, a working mother of two who earns her GED, college degree and law degree in her fight to free her brother from prison.
Coakley’s representatives sought to curtail the negative press from the movie yesterday and released a fact sheet detailing what they said are inaccuracies. According to the release, Coakley did not keep Waters in prison for months after DNA tests showed he wasn’t the one who brutally murdered Katharina Brow in her Ayer home in 1980. Waters was released from prison within two weeks of the DNA test, according to the fact sheet, which highlighted her 20 years as a prosecutor and record of protecting against wrongful convictions.
At a preview screening at AMC’s Boston Common theater Tuesday, the audience gasped with recognition after Martha Coakley’s name was first mentioned and chuckled when Swank calls Coakley an “evil b
Coakley, who is fighting for re-election next month against Republican Jim McKenna, was at that same screening but wasn’t spotted by a Sun reporter. She said she arrived late and left immediately after the movie ended. Coakley said her feelings weren’t hurt by the “b
h” label or audience reaction.
“I talked to enough people about what the movie was about, so I was prepared. I actually do have a pretty thick skin about this sort of stuff,” said Coakley, who praised Swank’s acting and Waters’ inspiring tale to earn a law degree and help her brother. “They clearly took some liberties with the actual facts.”
Coakley is mentioned by name nearly a dozen times in the film, but the audience never meets her character or hears her voice. Waters and her older brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell) refer to Coakley as a “b
h” several times as they fight for his freedom with the help of Waters’ friend, Abra Rice, played by Minnie Driver, and lawyer Barry Scheck, played by Peter Gallagher.
Scheck, of The Innocence Project, cautions Waters that Coakley doesn’t want to free him because prosecutors don’t like to admit when mistakes are made, especially when the district attorney is newly elected Martha Coakley.
Coakley said she never stood in the way of Waters’ release, which he won in March 2001 after 19 years in prison. Waters, 48, died after he fell on his head from a wall six months after he was released from jail.
The movie’s other villain, Ayer police Officer Nancy Taylor, who is portrayed as pushing witnesses to frame Kenneth Waters, is allowed some redemption in the eyes of the audience. It was tough being the only female cop on Ayer’s police force, something Taylor tells Waters she should understand.
Taylor is played by Melissa Leo, who is also playing Micky Ward’s mother in The Fighter, due out in December.
Betty Anne Waters, 56, lives in Bristol, R.I., where she manages a pub. She was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, Coakley is the movie’s faceless and voiceless antagonist.
Coakley said she believes voters will see that Hollywood sensationalized the story and won’t judge her based on the movie when they head to the polls next month.
“I think voters are going to focus on what’s important to running the office,” said Coakley.
McKenna, Coakley’s political opponent, urged people to watch the movie.
“The movie Conviction has obviously got under Martha Coakley’s skin. People should go out and see the movie and decide what they would like to believe,” Beth Lindstrom, McKenna’s senior adviser, said in a prepared statement.