The Conspirator

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conspiratorSometimes movie critics watch multiple films in one day. I think the most I’ve reviewed was five in a day (that included two DVD screeners I watched at home).

The morning I saw The Conspirator, was the same day I saw The Lincoln Lawyer. It was an odd coincidence, since The Conspirator is a story that deals with the lone female charged as co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The titles seemed interchangeable, though.

What I found interesting about this story was that I knew nothing of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn), and she’s involved in one of the biggest stories in our history. I’ve always felt it was much more fun watching a movie about a subject you aren’t familiar with.

It’s strange the amount of things we know about Lincoln, and so little about a woman that may or may not have conspired to kill the 16th President. Everyone was against Surratt, even the lawyer assigned to represent her.

Perhaps it’s the first case in our history that deals with things that are even debated today – dislike for defense attorneys, civilians being tried in military courts, and defendants not getting their Constitutional rights.

I enjoyed the lighting and how the film was shot, and the legal questions it brings up.

There were scenes where the defense attorney discusses the case with his girlfriend and friends that I found interesting.

There were too many heavy-handed moments, though.

I’m also somebody that doesn’t let the filmmakers politics play into what I think of the movie. It didn’t bother me watching Sean Penn in last years Fair Game. I didn’t mind Sean Penn and two more of Hollywood’s biggest liberals – Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins – making the great Dead Man Walking.

For some reason, during the boring segments of this film (and there were a few), I thought about how it was Robert Redford making it, and that rubbed me the wrong way. It made me think scenes were being a little preachy, when if it was another filmmaker that did this, I might not have thought that.

I’m always fascinated in period pieces when some medical procedure is going on. In this, when we see bowls of blood being carried away from Lincolns bed, it’s powerful. I then thought about Ronald Reagan being shot in the lung, and a quick trip to the hospital that saved his life.

This was almost a perfect cast, except for one big misstep.

Tom Wilkinson was great in his small role. I think he’s incapable of a bad performance.

Kevin Kline, see comment above.

Stephen Root has the perfect face for this time period, and James McAvoy and Evan Rachel Wood were good.

It was Justin Long’s face that I had problems with. It stuck out like a sore thumb, and almost sunk the entire film. It made me think these guys were all wearing fake facial hear and costumes as some Civil War reenactment or skit.

At two hours, I would’ve liked a little less of the Mary Surrat story and more about some of the other characters involved in the case.

The movie gets a C, and I’m guessing it’ll end up being shown in high school and college courses years from now.

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