This is a very watchable courtroom drama that delivers stellar performances within a fascinating story told by director Robert Redford.
The Conspirator follows the tale of a lawyer’s defence of Mary Surratt, one of the seven people accused of conspiring against and murdering American President Abraham Lincoln. Surratt, mother of one of the conspirators, ran a boarding house which was a focal meeting point in the plot to kidnap Lincoln. In The Conspirator war hero lawyer, Frederick Aiken, defends Surratt’s innocence in 1865 Washington.
Robin Wright and James McAvoy put in stellar performances in their lead roles. Wright quietly displays a multitude of emotions with confidence and poise. Her performance of this complex character is believable and interesting. McAvoy gives an impassioned performance, full of gusto, as is to be expected from the talented Scottish actor. The struggle both characters incur brings the story up a notch, with Aiken torn by what he believes and what he should do and Surratt morally struggling. Had there not been this internal battle, the story would have been stagnant and played out like a one scene play.
Justin Long and Alexis Bledel put in brave performances as supporting actors but just miss the mark slightly. The two lack the control of the main cast and seem slightly out of place. The performance of Evan Rachel Wood, as Surratt’s daughter, was far more impressive with considerably less screen time.
"It wasn’t so much about whether she was guilty or innocent, it’s about how she was treated and why was the Military Commission not a civil trial" Wright states in interviews adding that it is "about the justice system and how corrupt it is."
Redford clearly wanted to focus on the story within the story, with Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s true killer, only featured for minutes.
Redford has a unique viewpoint and, though the story could drag for some viewers, the cinematography is compelling. Cold, tense and often eerie are the dusty courtroom, the barren battlefields and the chilling sight of gallows. He delivers a little-known story to the masses in a heavy period drama that manages to stay afloat and entertain until the last minute.