The Conspirator

User Score
6.8

Generally favorable reviews- based on 43 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 43
  2. Negative: 2 out of 43

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User Reviews

  1. Apr 18, 2011
    6
    One of the men who plotted to assassinate President Lincoln remained in hiding, while his mother was tried for the crime. An inexperienced attorney (what else?) was appointed to defend her. Despite overwhelmingly unfair circumstances, he (James McAvoy) staunchly fights for her innocence. While all the performances are strong and the period art direction/cinematography is gorgeous, directorOne of the men who plotted to assassinate President Lincoln remained in hiding, while his mother was tried for the crime. An inexperienced attorney (what else?) was appointed to defend her. Despite overwhelmingly unfair circumstances, he (James McAvoy) staunchly fights for her innocence. While all the performances are strong and the period art direction/cinematography is gorgeous, director Robert Redford somehow slacked on the emotional impact. As a result, this is a beautifully wrought history lesson. Expand
  2. May 6, 2011
    4
    This review contains spoilers. 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. Collapse
  3. Apr 25, 2011
    5
    A real disappointment. Here is a classic story that had so many angles and interests yet Redford offered a narrow, uninspired legalistic thread. Could you have imagined how good this could have been with just more scenes of the plot and plotters, more Washington intrigue? So many avenues left unexplored. I was let down..
  4. Nov 6, 2011
    6
    A lot of care went into to making this film. The setting, costuming, and actors all seem to be giving it their all, but the script could use a lot of work. Drama there is in abundance, but there could have been so much more. This is a rental at best, or just wait for it on tv.
  5. 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.
  6. Feb 28, 2012
    5
    My rating is actually a C+, almost worth seeing. If not that it was based on actual events and Mr. Redford tried to stay true to what happens to the characters it would have been below average. Most of the big names have small parts and don't have enough to spread their wings. The film is left to Ms. Wright and Mr. McAvoy. He is dull, boring, and never won me over so I could root for him.My rating is actually a C+, almost worth seeing. If not that it was based on actual events and Mr. Redford tried to stay true to what happens to the characters it would have been below average. Most of the big names have small parts and don't have enough to spread their wings. The film is left to Ms. Wright and Mr. McAvoy. He is dull, boring, and never won me over so I could root for him. One may say that the only character to get behind is Mary (Ms. Wright) but she plays the role so blandly, never letting me know what she knew. Without that, I have to guess (what some critics think is positive) and my conclusion is she should have known what was going on and if she did , did not want to step in. She doesn't come across as afraid so why? Certainly her treatment in the American justice system was deplorable, perhaps overly melodramatic, but things did change after her trial. Perhaps for history buffs, but falls short on it's own. Expand
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.