The true story of the trial behind Lincoln’s assasination is much more interesting than The Conspirator would lead you to think. This straight -played drama features James McAvoy as the reluctant lawyer to Robin Wright’s accused co-conspirator, who is willing to defend her family no matter what the cost. Redford might be able to line up a stellar cast (just see Lions for Lambs), but can he follow through this time?
The clunky edits and garrulous exchanges strip away any ardent feeling towards Surrat’s plight, which is quite a feat given she’s the only likeable character in the whole thing. The sun-in-your-eyes shots are irritating, along with the rest of the garish cinematography, which pushes Redford’s ideology a little too conspicuously. The actors have no discerning chemistry, and it’s hard to take Justin Long seriously at the best of times, let alone as a post-Civil War hero. It all would have worked better as a courtroom drama, where the wiliness of McAvoy’s lawyer starts to shine, as does the talent of the very underrated Danny Huston.
The Conspirator has been regarded as a liberal assessment of civil liberties, but Surrat’s fate could also be read as a warning to those willing to sit on subversive knowledge. They are as guilty as those who commit the physical acts. Sadly though, such musings (which match Evan Rachel Woods’ perma-brood), are lost in the The Conspirator’s clomping drudgery.