Today: April 12, 2024

The Conspirator

A period courtroom drama that finds the right level of character drama to keep the jury out till the bitter end.

A period courtroom drama that finds the right level
of character drama to keep the jury out till the bitter end.

dramas, though always popular with cinema, have a built in flaw. If, as is
surely prerequisite for the genre, they are based on any major event in history
it is fair to assume the audience will know how the climax of the film will
transpire. Case in point, if anyone didn’t know Hitler wasn’t going to fair
well in Downfall they need to brush up on their GCSE history. With this in mind
The Conspirator picks up its story after said historical event, namely what
happened to a woman who was accused of helping to conspire in the assassination
of Abraham Lincoln.

Frederick Aiken (McAvoy) is a respected and revered civil
war solider who fought for the Union. With the war behind him he is looking to
get back into law. However, while peace is still ripe in the nation President
Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth (an oddly absent Toby Kebbell). With Booth killed trying
to escape, a grieving nation turns to his co-conspirators to lay the blame on.
One such ‘conspirator’ is the accused Mary Surratt (Wright) who ran the boarding house where the plan was hatched.
Aiken finds himself assigned to defend her. But, despite his belief that she is
guilty it becomes clear this case is not about just her but the legal system in
a country anxious to be free and fair.

Director Robert Redford has always had a
penchant for conspiracy thrillers what with Quiz Show, Lions for Lambs
and his upcoming The Company You Keep.
He is, if you will, a slightly more vanilla Oliver Stone, minus the tantalizing testosterone fueled rages. The
Conspirator therefore is typical Redford in directing mode. The film deals with
broader issues than what it pertains to be looking at while never losing sight
of the overall plot.

Aiken is a solid,
if slightly two dimensional, character. A war hero who suddenly finds himself
defending someone who supported the side he nearly died defeating. Meanwhile
Surratt is a woman determined to prove her innocence but not incriminate others
in the process. Indeed on the surface the film plays out with a made-for-TV
come Hallmark story. However, because the plot, at least to most audience
members, will be unknown Redford and co find ways to keep your interest firmly

It is essentially
a courtroom drama but as Aiken slowly begins to unravel the truth behind the
President’s assassination so we are drawn ever more into the minds of all involved.
The film is visually interesting as well. Every room possessing a light misting
of smoke with shards of sunlight filtering through the fog. In other words
Aiken soon realises that nothing is quite what it seems, especially the
motivations of those he is up against prosecuting his client.

And all this is
aided by a stellar cast all on song. In fact you could spend the better part of
the film gladly identifying each character from Kevin Kline to Tom Wilkinson
and Evan Rachel Wood to Justin Long. It is probably based on Redford’s iconic
status in the industry that he is able to draw in such talent. Wright is solid
if unspectacular, a proud woman whose black wardrobe belies the innocent
please. However, once again it falls on the ever reliable shoulders of James
McAvoy to carry the film. Though his part is not the best written he is the
most appealing on screen presence. Behind the odd facial hair lies a face in
constant state of flux and angst. Aiken wants rid of the case but knows that if
he loses so does much of what he fought for. McAvoy never lets this inner
turmoil dominate the part but rather play out in a series of frustrated asides.

Doing exactly
what it says on the tin The Conspirator is a good yarn that draws you in thanks
to evocative visuals and a nice turn from lead actor McAvoy. The ending also
presents an unexpected twist that conventional cinema would otherwise have
skipped over.

To Buy The Conspirator on DVD Click Here or on Blu-Ray Click Here

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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