Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Conspirator

Norman Reedus season had taken a short hiatus due to lack of funds, dvds and willpower to sit through Blade2 but it was back with aplomb as The Conspirator was finally released.

PLOT:  Abraham Lincoln has just been assassinated and with The Conspirators safely behind bars Fred Aiken, (James McAoy) a young captain who fought in the war, has been given the charge of defending Mary Surratt, (Robin Wright) the mother of the only conspirator who managed to escape.  Aiken reluctantly prepares his defence and discovers that Mary was not directly involved in the conspiracy but has been arrested as she refuses to give up the whereabouts of her son.  Aiken tries to find John Surratt in order to save his client from the gallows but is up against a courtroom and a society hell bent on revenge/swift justice on those involved in Lincoln’s assassination.  There is a conspiracy (poor I know).  There is severe miscasting.  There is no happy Hollywood ending.  END PLOT

Right off the bat I should point out that I know very little about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln other than he was shot and killed at the theatre by John Wilkes-Booth and keeping true to form I have carried out no research whatsoever in order to determine if the events which took place in The Conspirator are historically accurate. 

The film well written and the content of the plot is strong.  Aiken constantly put forward the argument of Mary’s constitutional rights and that she should be tried under a civilian court of her peers but this never happened.  The Conspirator also played up the hysteria which followed the assassination and the fact that the Court Tribunal was hell-bent on having people hang for the crime regardless of their level of involvement.  This is the part of the film which really caught my attention and I think it would have made it stronger if they developed this further. 

The pace of the film is very slow which suited it.  This is not a modern courtroom thriller complete with stylish linguistic manipulation of the jury - the drama within the courtroom scenes is very much in line with what was acceptable at the time. 

The story of Mary Surratt was completely new to me and I blame Hollywood, rather than my own historical ignorance, for the fact that I watched the entire film waiting for the moment she would be released.  I waited for John Surratt to turn himself in thereby saving his mother right up until she went to the gallows and it obviously never came. 

During the closing credits we were informed that John Surratt was given a civilian trial and as his involvement could not be proved beyond all reasonable doubt he was set free - this is a story I will keep in mind if I ever move across to American historical novels.

I will watch James McAvoy in anything - he is an actor of my generation and when my grandchildren are discovering film he will be the one I force upon them as the dashing young star of my time.  As the film was paced so slowly it fell to McAvoy to hold the audiences interest and he led the cast and the film with ease. 

Robin Wright is one of those actresses who pops up occasionally and she also very good as Mary Surratt.

The supporting cast of Tom Wilkinson, Danny Glover and Evan Rachel Wood also put in strong performances. 

The weak link in the film is Justin Long.  The how’s and whys of his casting are totally lost on me in all of the films he has appeared in but his surprise appearance irritated me and every time he was on screen I couldn’t stop the stomach clenching hate that is attached to him.

Norman Reedus’ role is tiny - so tiny he does not have many lines or much to do at all.  He does get a couple of scenes in flashbacks but mostly he sits in the courtroom and scowls at everyone.  The Daryl Dixon Stare is attractive and downright distracting in any era - there are few people I will stop watching James McAvoy to look at and he is one of them.  October cannot come quickly enough.  It does have to be said that with The Conspirator McAvoy was the reason and Reedus was the bonus.

The only way I could have loved Lewis Payne more is if he said something charmingly racist.... I am a flawed person........

The Conspirator is the first Robert Redford directed film I have watched although it is also the first which appealed.  I do like a good historical film and The Conspirator is just that.  It lacked a certain spark or that one big scene to tip it over into the lower end of the epic scale but it cannot be considered a shabby film.  It gets a very solid 7/10 and will most likely be picked up on dvd sometime down the line for a rewatch. 


  1. Sounds like something I would enjoy....

    There are some who feel that Mary was involved in the assassination to some degree although one of the coconspirators exonerated her another said she knew all.. interesting case..first women executed by the US.

  2. I would definitely recommend it if you like this kind of film Jim.

    In The Conspirator Mary was portrayed very sympathetically

  3. This is one of those film I did mean to catch while it was out but just got lost in the shuffle, I do plan on picking it up on disk when it comes out. Sounds like it's worthwhile and I love historical dramas.

  4. It is worth a look when it comes out on dvd.

    I read on IMDB that the production company which made it was set up to make American historical dramas so hopefully they will crank them out at a reasonable pace.

    It would be good if something like that was set up over here.

  5. Yes I have benreading good things about this. Funny thing is i know RR films he has starred in but couldn't tell you a single one he has directed!!
    I'm keen on this for the historical angle so it may please my cynical side that has come to the fore lately!

  6. Hopefully you will get it sooner rather than later.

    It is a real slow burner but it never gets boring due to James McAvoy.