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The Conspirator Review

By Ivan Favelevic
On March 28, 2011

Filmmaking is one of the few mediums with the ability to educate its audience as much as entertain them. If an obscure topic is presented correctly, a large portion of the audience can come out of the theatre having learned something. "The Conspirator" has hit a jackpot with its subject matter. It has found a real untold story in a very well known period in our history. Its presentation delivers the proper educational package any movie should carry.

Everyone knows the story of the Lincoln assassination. John Wilkes Booth snuck into Ford's Theatre and made his way up to the presidential balcony where he shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head and then fled the scene of the crime. However, "The Conspirator" sheds light on the other half of the assassination. Booth was not working alone. He and various other conspirators were seeking to bring down the entire Union government and have the remaining Confederate troops rally together and take back the country. What the film concentrates on, however, is the trial of one of the conspirators, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who was charged with housing the meetings that led to the eventual acts of treason. The story is very well presented, with immaculate attention to detail with regards to the timeline of events and overall historical accuracy. Furthermore, the plight the main character, attorney Frederick Aiken (played by James McAvoy) to defend a person whom the entire country believes to be guilty of murdering the president of the nation is very well presented. There is a clear conflict present throughout the movie and the relationship between Surratt and Aiken is constantly gripping.

At the helm is Robert Redford, a man who seems to have become as powerful a director as he is an actor and this movie is no exception. The courtroom scenes are brimming with tension, yet the movie rarely sticks to just one genre when delivering its message. The characters all have multiple conflicts overarching one another, which helps the movie maintain a constant pace. The only casting woe present is Justin Long's character. He plays Aiken's old war buddy, yet never seems to bring anything to the story past some hamstringed comic relief. It is understandable for a serious film such as this to break the tension every once in a while, but introducing a character for that sole purpose makes him suffer for Jar Jar Binks syndrome. Otherwise all the other characters are beautifully fleshed out and enticing to watch.

Overall, "The Conspirator" comes off as a success. Often we are forced to endure supposedly accurate historical dramas that decide to take some dramatic liberty with an aspect of the story, causing people to go believing what the movie told them rather than what actually happened. Thankfully, "The Conspirator" presents such a high level of historical accuracy, that very little fact checking is required. If historical accuracy is not your thing, however, do not be alienated from this fantastic film that forms a clever courtroom drama with characters you actually care about.

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