The Conspirator – Review

Film: The Conspirator (2010) 

Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel

Directed by: Robert Redford

Produced by: Robert Redford, Brian Falk, Bill Holderman, Greg Shapiro, Robert Stone

Written by: James D. Solomon

Music by: Mark Isham

Running Time: 122 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Ah, historical dramas. These films always present the challenge of keeping audiences engaged despite general knowledge of the given story’s outcome. They can typically overcome this issue through a combination of a worthwhile examination of fine details, a suspenseful style of storytelling (alliteration intended), and great acting. Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, which tells the story of the conviction of Mary Surratt for conspiracy in Abraham Lincoln’s murder, manages to make good on only two of these criteria.

If you know your history (I know a bit but I’m no history buff), then you know that Mary Surratt (played in the film by Robin Wright) is found guilty and is ultimately executed. However, the film explores some of the finer details of Surratt’s alleged involvement in the Lincoln assassination, and it manages to make the audience angry and perplexed that she was executed on the basis of such little evidence, and in comparison to more guilty parties who would escape conviction (namely Mary’s son, John).

Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a Union Civil War hero, is put in the unenviable position of defending someone to whom he would inevitably be opposed right from the very start. However, as the case proceeds, Aiken begins to believe in Surratt’s innocence, and fights the ironically conspiratorial efforts of the prosecution in an effort to save her life. The Conspirator succeeds in making us angry at the injustices of the situation, as the nation was desperately in search of quick scapegoats and sought vengeful action at the expense of the liberties upon which the United States was based. It is the examination of the details of Surratt’s role, as well as a brilliant piece of acting by rising star James McAvoy, that was enough to keep audiences (me) interested to at least some extent.

Nevertheless, the biggest shortcomings of The Conspirator are rooted in Redford’s style of storytelling. Backdrop and stage-setting are of course crucial, but Redford spends too much of the film’s first hour-plus on these elements and not enough on the progression of the story. Mixing story set-up with enough suspense to keep viewers engaged from the outset is an undeniably difficult thing to do, and Redford does not quite achieve an adequate enough level of balance in this regard.

Still, The Conspirator‘s fine cast (which features Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, and Alexis Bledel in supporting roles), in conjunction with McAvoy’s powerhouse performance and strong attention to detail, manages to salvage the film to a degree.

Tommy D’s Score:





2.75/4 Tommy Ds

About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on December 27, 2011, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll avoid this one. I saw the new Mission Impossible this week. It was much better than expected. It got a little ridiculous, but you know what you’re getting going into a Mission Impossible movie. It was fun and entertaining.

  2. Your counter shows 442 followers now.

  3. I wish it didn’t include them. I see you’ve followed suit with a tag cloud. I like it!

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