Friday, April 22, 2011

"The Conspirator" (2011) - Movie Review

Courtroom drama in films has certainly brought cynicism in this viewer. Especially on the new ventures of that genre in current films. I have not witnessed the thorough threatening entertainment Jack Nicholson provided in “A Few Good Men” in a long time. Nor have I witnessed a lawyer’s trouble with himself on the edge of justice as it did to Paul Newman’s character in the cinematic classic “The Verdict”. Robert Redford’s film though interesting and informative does not get its place on the shelves with the aforementioned favourites of mine.

Redford’s previous venture “Lions for Lambs” was critically panned but I admired it and mentioned it in my yearly reference to better films. His balance in the patriotism and the way of expressing it by different individuals intrigued me. In “The Conspirator” he asks us to look through the eyes of a confederate through the eyes of the union. Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) a Southerner and a confederate sympathizer is charged with conspiracy for killing President Abraham Lincoln. She had the members of the confederate staying at her boarding place. Her son John (Johnny Simmons) is nowhere to be found as he was the one bringing John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) the assassin of the President to her house. As the country sets upon its eyes of revenge towards the old woman there is Senator Reverdy Johnson to provide fair trial. He is played by Tom Wilkinson who invites respect by just being casted and he recruits a young man Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy). Aiken served as a Captain in the civil war and gets to defend the woman the country hates.

The drill is the same. The defending man beckons to not believe in his client and as the movie progresses he slowly becomes drawn to the possible innocence of his client. Even Redford knows that the time is different but the plot is the same. The backdrop is the place where this film depends upon. Here we see the face of evil in the victorious union. They are angry and they need blood. To represent that side of darkness is Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline). As the opposite of diplomatic Senator Reverdy is warmongering Stanton or so it is put forth by Redford. We see Stanton’s justification on going to lengths to make sure Mary Surratt is punished. This is done with perfect execution in acting by Kevin Kline that pulls us to the pendulum of dilemma of where law resides when the country is in war but it is just too late.

“The Conspirator” is a good film but not a better film. It is a victim of its genre but I am not going to take it as an excuse either. The public awareness of this reviewer’s dislike towards horror films is known but there are good horror films which I like. Redford of course lines up the best cast as he did for “Lions for Lambs” and gets their best. James McAvoy especially does the role with a thorough understanding of his character. He is idealistic but knows the imperfection of the system and tries to work so hard on it to get his client some time in the biased court appointed to crucify, burn and bury Mary Surratt.

Robin Wright plays Mary Surratt and she gets the lethargic lines penned by James D. Solomon. I could almost predict her lines and mine gives an illusion of being better. There are re-enactments of the witnesses testifying which provides no purpose than to give a visual witness for the audience. It should have been left to picture it ourselves as it was for the court and crowd. It merely adds buffer time with no interest to the viewer.

You may think I am slamming “The Conspirator” more than it deserves. Believe me that it is a much better film than several other mediocre ones but when a film has the perfect cast, an able director and a room for exploring the nature of extreme differences resulting in deadly behaviour, it has set itself for a dramatic and impressive film. Robert Redford does not hold the command he held in “Lions for Lambs”.

Regardless of the mediocrity, the film portrays how easy it is for to be angry and blind. More frighteningly it portrays how wise and able men like Stanton can strongly justify their act of revenge with a righteous feeling within them. It also states how people having strong differences in the way things are run sympathized and expected the same right as the one fighting for it. The cliched adage of “History repeats itself” again becomes true in the scary way of how time, technology and treatment changes but the character of people remain the same in trying situations both good and bad.

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