User Score
6.8

Generally favorable reviews- based on 41 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 41
  2. Negative: 2 out of 41

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  1. May 6, 2011
    4
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Regardless of her status as a ruthless collaborator(or not) who consorted with the likes of the infamous John Wilkes Booth, boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt deserved a better fate than to be the mother of a son who could be so cowardly and unconscionable, so utterly without a chivalrous bone in his body. Somewhere in Canada, while Mary staged a hunger strike in the confinement of a windowless prison cell throughout the Lincoln Conspirators' seven-week trial, John Surratt let his mother take the rap, eluding capture by lodging with Catholic priests at an undisclosed church, far away from the military tribunal who would put her to death. The urgent message for his immediate return stateside that counselor Frederick Aiken passes along to a go-between bishop would elapse unheeded by the fugitive son, who'd eventually flee to Rome following Mary's execution for her alleged involvement in the conspiracy plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Two years after Mary Surratt's lifeless body dangled from the gallows, U.S. Marshals finally caught up with John Jr.in Egypt and dispatched him back to the District of Columbia. Since "The Conspirator" is based on Kate Clifford Larson book "The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln", whose retelling of the events following the 19th century political killing by the historian posits the Confederate sympathizer as being unequivocally guilty, Frederick's encounter with Mary's son is a relatively low-key affair, in which the counselor never attacks John physically, or even verbally, for not coming out of hiding to clear her mother's good name like a real man. To do so would be anathematic to Larson's thesis, because it would transform Mary Serratt into a martyr for the railroaded, and simultaneously, disrepute the filmmaker's claim that "The Conspirator" takes an objective view on the guilty verdict which made Serratt, a Civil War widow and mother of three, the first woman to receive the death penalty from the federal government. Despite such seemingly unprejudicial considerations on the filmmaker's part related to Mary's innocent or guilt, why then does the moviegoer anticipate fireworks, a vituperation by the counselor on his dead client's behalf against the familial prisoner? The answer to this question can be traced back to the filmmaker's prerogative to create his own moral universe, which in this case, becomes a unilateralist one, where a systemic calibration of sneaky didacticism which leans toward the Catholic woman's innocence is propounded subversively without Larson's cognizance. In hindsight, there appears to have been an extradiegetic dialectic before production started. The omnipresent rosary beads which Mary clutches tightly in her fingers until gravity jars it loose, is next seen to be in the counselor's hands, a memento for John to remember her mother by. Using disingenuous restraint, the son beats Frederick to the punch with a petition about his unworthiness of Mary Serratt's bestowal, therefore denying the catharsis that "The Conspirator" seems on the verge of furnishing. Frederick's seemingly passionless disposition towards Mary suggests that he has second thoughts about Mary's innocence. His attitude would mirror Larson's own experience, but it doesn't mirror what the filmmaker holds to be true. Through the failure to disclose the pertinent fact concerning Mary Serratt's ownership of slaves, the filmmaker goes rogue, despite his undeviating fidelity toward the court record, because keeping black men as chattel would underscore Mary's unabiding hatred for Lincoln that "The Conspirator" seems unwilling to admit. Vaguely referred to as "the cause", slavery's ties with institutionalized white privilege would pose a bad fit for the film's secret agenda of maintaining the feminist myth that Mary was a naif amidst all the deadly machinations hatched by her boarders, and the all-male military tribunal. Frederick, a former Union hero who fought for the limited enfranchisement of the "coloreds", should have interrupted Mary right then and there in the course of her fond remembrances about the Confederacy's fight for "the cause" with a sharp rebuttal. An honest film would have the two sides hashing out their ideological differences, but alas, "The Conspirator" is not that film. At some level, these natural born enemies must distrust each other, but the common ground that both Frederick and Mary arrive at is never truly earned, because the camaraderie among the strange bedfellows occurs without the benefit of incremental dramatization. This time around, the filmmaker can't be criticized for cinematic partisanship in this follow-up to the hysterically liberal "Lions for Lambs". Sure, "The Conspirator" is a political allegory against the danger of convicting terrorists with similar tribunals, but as it turns out, Obama is no different from Bush. The filmmaker realizes this irony. Expand
  2. May 28, 2011
    4
    "The Conspirator" is based on a fantastic story story; however, sadly this fantastic story is warped by an insufficient script, a mostly lackluster cast, and spotty direction.
  3. Dec 29, 2011
    2
    It had it's moments but the movie just failed to capture what should have been an emotional powerhouse. I didnt feel any emotion at all during this film besides the humerous fact that there were some terrible mis-casts for this film. Justin Long (a terrible cast who plays his part poorly), Alexis Bledel (who is as interesting as watching walls), and Evan Rachel Wood (a serious over-acting actress that sucks hard through out). James McAvoy however plays his part perfectly but he alone cant make up for the trash around him.

    Also lets face it, The film was boring. It was insanely predictable that the woman was gonna be a sacrificial lamb from the begining, It spoiled the journey of getting to that point. I generally like films like this (which is why I rented it) but this is one film that I would suggest avoiding. I did not like it at all.
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Metascore
55

Mixed or average reviews - based on 37 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 17 out of 37
  2. Negative: 3 out of 37
  1. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Apr 29, 2011
    50
    Redford hasn't moved too far here from an earlier political-thriller template: With its skulduggery, late-night meetings and the contemptuous political cabal out to thwart justice, The Conspirator can be thought of as "All the President's Men – The Lincoln Edition."
  2. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Apr 21, 2011
    75
    Redford methodically presents the injustices piled on Surratt and suggests what might have prompted her stoicism. But James D. Solomon's script is often flat, perhaps in a misguided effort to be stately.
  3. Reviewed by: Justin Chang
    Apr 16, 2011
    50
    This methodical courtroom drama is charged with impassioned performances and an unimpeachable liberal message. But its stodgy emphasis on telling over showing will limit its reach to Civil War buffs and self-selecting older viewers.