JAMES MCAVOY ROBIN WRIGHT KEVIN KLINE TOM WILKINSON EVAN RACHEL WOOD
ALEXIS BLEDEL JUSTIN LONG DANNY HOUSTON JOHNNY SIMMONS
As a director, Robert Redford hasn’t had that much luck behind the camera. His previous two films political thriller Lions for Lambs, and golf movie The Legend of Bagger Vance were disappointing flops. The Conspirator is one of two films this year revolving around Abraham Lincoln, and debuting at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, the trailer certainly made the Oscar buzzer go off. Robin Wright has been virtually ignored by Hollywood despite some great performances and films. I had hoped that this role would finally be take her to a new level, but sadly, the entire movie is disappointing. The Conspirator isn’t a bad film; it has the intentions to be groundbreaking and epic but cannot figure out how.
After the assassination of Lincoln, widowed Mary Surratt (Wright) among many others were put on trial for conspiring to kill the president. During a crucial time for the U.S., as wars fiercely pitted the North against the South, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kline) has declared no mercy for those on trial and has ensured they will not be treated fairly under the Constitution. Senator Reverdy Johnson (Wilkinson) is appalled at the injustice and appoints new lawyer Fredrick Aiken (McAvoy) to try and give Mary a fair trial even though he disagrees with his task. He becomes consumed with her defense and even alienates himself from family and party to try and uphold the law that is being ignored.
The story being told here is interesting. But behind the history and screenplay’s face value, Redford is once again trying to sell his political values. This wouldn’t be troublesome if it didn’t transform the story from compelling to mundane. The script perhaps focuses on the wrong points of history or maybe even the wrong point of view, and it doesn’t work as well as it should. Redford’s The Horse Whisperer is one of my favorite films. There, every element is in the right place so I know he can make a near perfect film.
Being Robert Redford you can get any actor to work for you, so the cast here is one of the most fascinating elements. James McAvoy (Atonement, Wanted) has long been one of the most promising new actors, but once again his talents are overshadowed by disorganized direction, and character validity. Despite his talents, he may also not have been the best choice for the role. . Nothing about his performance here is exciting or memorable. Kevin Kline on the other hand stands out for playing against type. The great Tom Wilkinson isn’t used often enough. Wright has a couple of good scenes but her performance is so diluted its annoying. Perhaps this would have worked better as a miniseries like John Adams. The only real use I see coming out of this movie is the use in history classes for educational purposes.
Final Thought- Redford doesn’t infuse this picture with the passion it deserves.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Charley Carroll