The Conspirator (2011)

Monday, August 29, 2011

History is always an interesting thing to delve into but you want to do so when you have a block of free time because there is so much information to be had – it can be overwhelming to take in. Most the time, British history holds more of an interest for me than American (stemming from so many British productions), but the events surrounding Abraham Lincoln do interest me and have never been explored like this before.

Abraham Lincoln has just led a nation through a Civil War – one which pitted the north against the south – as president of the United States. Shortly after the end of the war, a lone bullet fired by a stage actor fatally wounds the president. His assassin is caught and shot to death by a loyal Union soldier, but it didn’t save the President and with two other men also targeted – the vice president and secretary of state – that same night, it becomes clear that John Wilkes Booth was not the only man involved in the plotting. Following his death seven men and one woman are arrested on charges of treason. The woman, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) claims innocence and deserves fair representation before going up against a military tribunal. Newly returned from the battle fields as a war hero and reappointed at his post of attorney Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy) is chosen by his superior Senator Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to be second chair in the case, but before long, the Senator abandons the case leaving sole responsibility to the reluctant former war hero and union captain. Fred listens to Mary’s story but is still without means to get her a fair trial considering the men have already pre-judged her and pre-determined her fate.

The Surratt’s are southerners and detest the northern states, but in order to make due, Mary moved her children north to support her family. She was land lady in the home used as a meeting place for plotting by the men responsible for the act. Doubtful of the woman’s claims, Fredrick struggles with taking her case: if he does so, he will be an out-cast, if he does not, it may be going against his belief that everyone deserves a fair trial. Taking on her case, Fredrick’s suspicions leads him straight to Mary’s son John: the lone conspirator never caught. Fredrick becomes convinced Mary couldn’t have known what her son was planning but all his efforts may be for nothing unless John reveals himself.

I was really excited to see this movie ever since the first on-set pictures appeared. Not just because it revolved around an important piece of history but because it was also meant a new period film was on the horizon. I am not sure how accurate this movie is to the historic events, but the movie has a look of period authenticity in many respects – it just comes off as authentic with exception to a rare few minor instances. Costuming is wonderful as a backdrop for the bigger more important story that is unfolding right on our television screen. I liked that the movie seemed to “come alive,” that it all held an air of realism even though the surroundings are no longer familiar and the events took place in an era we are a stranger to – the 1800’s. All of this does lend credence but perhaps the biggest accomplishment is in its acting: it is phenomenal. James, Robin, Tom and the supporting cast (which consists of Alexis Bledel and Evan Rachel Wood) each give compelling, emotional and conniving performances respectively. There wasn’t a weak member among them.

In the little bits and pieces of reading I did subsequent to seeing the film, I was impressed enough to think that writers and director Robert Redford did as accurate a job as could be done of bringing this story to the screen. The movie is admittedly likely over exaggerated in various instances to be more dramatic and exciting to us, but that isn’t a reason to dislike this story. Writers accurately even have one of the conspirators losing his nerve! This is much like the actual night: instead of carrying out his role in the plot, he drinks himself into a stupor and instead flees before making even the smallest attempt to assassinate the vice-president. Where the film does stumble is being a bit confusing once the attacks start. We are taken back-and-forth between three different locations where three men are about to carry out part of the plot to bring down the presidency. In all other respects, the movie is wonderful. It is a compelling, gripping story that takes a look at underhanded politics and shows us that life doesn’t give us a “fair” hand – sometimes, the innocent lose and the guilty win, no matter the evidence.

(PG13 concerns: the film shows a few battle wounds and in shadows Lincoln’s assassination. Another man is brutally stabbed.)


    Wanted to in the theater...but maybe On Demand will have to suffice and SOON! (I'm self-confessed Civil War obsessed so you can see where my excitement comes from.)

  2. Yeah! My family was curious as to the accuracy of this movie - I'd be interested in your expert opinion Meghan!! I like the Civil War era, but do not know my history like I should.

    Enjoy this movie whenever you see it - it really is very good.

  3. Do you know, I forgot the title of this film and it took your post to have me remember it?! The commercials had looked so good, but then I forgot about it. (Chalk it up to my never go to theatres mentality)

    It looks really good to me....and WOW, that is an amazing, amazing cast. That alone makes me want to see it

  4. Ella - the cast IS amazing! Or I thought it was. I do not know how historically correct the movie is, but it's an interesting film if nothing else.

  5. I've gotta confess, this movie was a HUGE disappointment for me. I love James McAvoy, and he was supported by several other excellent actors in this film -- but pacing, half the cast, and the script and editing just made this movie fall apart for me. I really ended up feeling like it was a huge missed opportunity. I'm glad you enjoyed it though!

  6. I am sorry you didn't enjoy this film. It was something my family really liked. It can tend to be a little slow-moving at times but I thought everyone in the cast gave wonderful performances.

    Not everyone likes the same stuff, though. (Hmm... so THAT is why Hollywood continues to make such a wide array of movies! LOL!)

    Maybe someday, Hollywood will get it right and make a truly great historical movie... or maybe not. =D

  7. I've got to confess, I did have the thought that the Brits would've made a much better film version of this. LOL! ;)

  8. You are probably quite right, Ruth. And, really how IRONIC is that!? =D


Have a thought? Don't be shy, go ahead and leave one... or two... or three! I reply to every comment. If you're new to the blog, please don't hesitate to introduce yourself and your blog - we love chatting around here!

Feedback and every comment is appreciated and read - I always leave a response; your opinions are respected and I ask that you show mine the same courtesy.

(If you post under “anonymous,” please leave a name. If you don't have a Google account, you can type your name into the Name/URL and if you have no site, just leave "URL" blank.)

If you are still reading my ramblings, thank you for following this little blog and for being one of its supporters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you, friends!

Latest Instagrams

© Finding Wonderland. Design by FCD.