Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The Conspirator - DVD Review
Starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Huston, Justin Long, Colm Meaney, Alexis Bledel, James Badge Dale, Toby Kebbell, Norman Reedus and Stephen Root. Directed by Robert Redford.
As a portrayal of historical events, this film is a valuable document. As its own entertainment, it never really comes to life.
The Civil War is finally over, and Pres. Abraham Lincoln has cause to celebrate, but before the nation can even exhale, he is shot in the back of the head. Quickly, John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators are chased down. Booth was killed, but the rest are on trial.
Only one on trial is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), and as her reluctant lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) quickly learns, she may be innocent after all. The movie is seen through Aiken's eyes, and the more convinced he becomes of Mary's innocence, the more the chips are frighteningly stacked against her.
If The Crucible was a response to the McCarthy hearings, then The Conspirator is a response to Guantanamo Bay. The parallels are too juicy. The nation is in fear, prisoners' right are ignored, a military tribunal judges instead of a civilian court, and the movie all but argues that Dick Cheney was War Secretary Edwin Stanton in a previous life.
One choice I wish Redford hadn't made: all the interior shots are done with realistic lighting, so that beams of light coming through the windows puts half of any room in shadow. Another is to keep Mary Surratt a cypher. Oh, Robin Wright makes you think more will be revealed about Mary, but it's never allowed to surface. It's all about the lawyer.
I support this being shown in high-school classrooms, but it is about at the level of your average Masterpiece Theater.