The Conspirator (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Seven men and one woman were arrested for conspiring to assassinate the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. Abraham Lincoln was dead and the government wanted someone to bury in order for the nation to be able to move on, not just from mourning and sorrow, but also to a new era in which the Civil War was history. Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), manager of a boarding house, was accused of being a conspirator in the assassination led by John Wilkes Booth. Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), a veteran lawyer, came to her defense but almost immediately appointed young and reluctant Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy). Johnson knew that if he led the defense, Surratt would have no chance because Johnson was also from the South. Aiken, at least initially, was convinced she was guilty. Based on the screenplay by James D. Solomon and directed by Robert Redford, “The Conspirator” was a well-crafted courtroom drama about the scarcity of justice in a nation that felt terrorized to the core. I admired the film’s insistence on tackling difficult questions. It offered us answers from many points of view but it was wise in highlighting the fact that the so-called truth is irrelevant if the stage is plagued with bias. Aiken was an interesting character because he had a difficult task in separating his beliefs from his duty as a lawyer. McAvoy was quite good in the role. Although he looked a bit young, there was ferocity in his eyes when he witnessed something unconstitutional and downright immoral. As a former soldier in the war, he thought he had seen it all, but he learned, in a subtle way, that bureaucracies had its share of traps and subterfuge. It was fascinating to see him adapt and at times even fail. The picture was shot beautifully. During the courtroom scenes, I was transfixed in the way the light emanated from the windows and how it landed on clothing and people’s faces. Smoke and dust blurred certain images but it was so natural that it made me feel like I was in the room. However, there were a few distracting elements that took me out the mood. I felt as though the pace of the rising action was diminished by the flashback scenes when Mary still had her freedom. The flashbacks were somewhat unnecessary because it took away some of the mystery that surrounded Mary’s allegiance. I got the impression that Redford wanted to humanize Mary just a little bit more when he really didn’t need to. Furthermore, Justin Long, as Aiken’s friend, and Alexis Bledel, as Aiken’s romantic interest, were miscast. Their styles of acting were distractingly modern. I felt their struggles in adapting to the film’s specific time period. Regardless, “The Conspirator” contained powerful messages about patriotism. Watching the film, people can and ought to learn that a true patriot is not someone who cries hardest in times of terror or grief; a true patriot is someone can see past the overwhelming feelings and commotions, someone who is loyal to the concept of what is fair.