Movie Review: The Conspirator

By Stephen Rebello

Robin Wright stars in Robert Redford's historical courtroom drama about Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Director: Robert Redford Rating: PG-13

Studio: American Film Company

The Conspirator is a well acted, stately, handsomely made historical courtroom drama directed by Robert Redford and adapted from a James Solomon screenplay. Its focus is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), at whose boardinghouse John Wilkes Booth and other men—including her son (Johnny Simmons)—were accused of plotting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the shock and outrage after the president’s murder, Surratt, because her son cannot be located, gets rounded up, arrested and railroaded by a military tribunal ginned-up by the vengeance-minded Secretary of War (Kevin Kline), who is inclined to shred the Constitution while deliberately ignoring all facts unearthed by Surratt’s initially-reluctant attorney (James McAvoy).

Sound familiar? With its stinging contemporary resonance and outrage over the government’s willingness to stomp on civil liberties when it’s politically expedient, The Conspirator could have packed a real emotional wallop, even to audiences who think they know a lot about the fascinating and quietly noble Surratt. The scenes of Lincoln’s killing and its aftermath are especially well done, and McAvoy, Wright and Tom Wilkinson are as exceptional as Evan Rachel Wood is underused and Justin Long is jarringly contemporary. Though directed with intelligence, craft and obvious attention to historical detail, The Conspirator is good but just too reverent to hit us where we live.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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