James McAvoy and Robin Wright lead the cast of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator. It’s Redford’s attempt to address his concerns with our current legal issues regarding fair trials for terrorists in the light of the death of Abraham Lincoln. Based on a true story,the film is a courtroom drama where the odds are stacked against a client who’s guilt is more circumstantial than actual. Find out more below…

The Players

The Story

John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) killed the president, but he was not alone in his actions, and so Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Klein) is put in charge of collecting everyone involved. Mary Surrat (Wright) was the mother of one of the conspirators, and her home was used to plot the assassination, though she also rented her home out to borders. Fredrick Aiken (McAvoy) is given the job of being her defense attorney, and though he resents and openly rejects the assignment, he finds that the law is so in favor of executing her, that the scales have been tipped unfairly against her.

The Good

  • The Question of Law Versus Values: Though the film is steeped in the more modern political ramifications about Guantanamo Bay, this delves into the idea of the need to kill an innocent person to stem the tide of dissent versus the nature of law. The idea that laws are in place to keep people from exercising their worst impulses is one of the things that makes having the rule of law important, and the film argues for that strongly, even in the face of politicians suggesting that the expedient solution is the best. The idea of honoring laws in the face of whatever imagined terribleness, the idea that humans can manage to either turn the other cheek or wait for rational thought before acting is a very powerful notion, and Redford’s film is paean to that.
  • Ringers: When you’re a talent like Robert Redford, you can get some of the best, and Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston, Kevin Klein and James Mcavoy are perfect period actors, who bring gravitas and history to their performances. Likewise, Robin Wright is fine as the woman who must suffer her indignities, and there’s also smaller performances from the likes of Stephen Root and Colm Meany.

The Bad:

  • Inevitability: When the film reveals it’s cards, that it’s Redford’s attempt to address what he sees as what’s wrong with the country, there’s really only so many places the film can go. There’s a stacked deck, and even though it’s based on the accounts of the time, you know where it’s going.
  • Episodic: The film wrestles with the themes that often plauge law shows and “Star Trek.” Even if the film is one of the better examples of such things, it definitely feels like there’s nothing that cinematic about it, other than the sure hand of its director.
  • Out of Time: The films The Conspirator most resembles are the films of Stanley Kramer, in that it’s very much of the “good for you” sort of cinema that he trafficked in. It also feels like the sort of film that would have come out at least a couple decades ago in hopes of winning Oscars. Instead it’s a limited release that will be all but forgotten at the end of the year.
  • Love Interest: McAvoy’s character has a girlfriend (Alexis Biedel) and a best friend who are not fond of what’s he up to. It’s a hackneyed plot device in films like this, and the performers seem just as out of place.

Overall:

A film that will surely play just as well at home as it does in theater, and does have the elements of something made for a history class, man’s ability t do the right thing has always been one of the great struggles of the civilized era. And though the film has some evident faults, if you can engage with those ideas, and find them compelling enough through Redford’s portrait of the America he both loves and is frustrated with, then there’s meat on the bones. Others will get bored.

Rating: 7.5/10

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