PG Cooper: The Conspirator Review

Posted: September 1, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
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Release date: April 15th, 2011

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Written by: James D. Solomon

Directed by: Robert Redford

Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Justin Long, and Evan Rachel Wood

The Conspirator is a film that opened to weak reviews and did very little at the box office. While I usually don’t rely on reviews for if I’ll see a film or not, the negative reviews definitely didn’t help. Plus, I thought the trailer was kinda clunky. But I stumbled across the DVD today and decided to rent it. I must say, I really regret not giving this a chance in theaters.

The plot revolves around the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) a middle-aged woman charged with conspiring to murder President Abraham Lincoln. Being a Southerner, it seems impossible for her to get a fair trial. Fred Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned by his mentor (Tom Wilkinson) to defend Mary in court. Fred is reluctant as he believes her as guilty as John Wilkes Booth. But as Fred begins to defend her, he slowly begins to believe her innocence.

James McAvoy leads the film with a charismatic performance. He’s very likable and watching his character change opinions as the film goes on is very satisfying. McAvoy had a great performance in this year’s X-Men: First Class, but his performance here is even better. Robin Wright is also quite good as Mary Surratt, the woman being tried. She does a good job showing the pain her character feels as well as showing her motherly side. You can’t help but feel a lot of sympathy for her character. Tom Wilkinson also has a fantastic supporting bit and I liked Evan Rachel Wood. The rest of the cast is competent. Danny Huston is playing the same type of role as he does in pretty much everything these days, whereas Justin Long and Alexis Bledel aren’t really given much to do.

The story itself is pretty good, but it stumbles here and there. The overall plot is very interesting. Watching Fred essentially square off against a corrupt prosecution is pretty interesting, but he also has to go up against his old client. At first, it’s because he doubts her innocence. As the film progresses, Fred finds an angle he can play with the best chances of Mary going free. But it involves crossing a line Mary refuses to go (I won’t spoil it), so he has to fight her on that. The story, while based on historical facts, is not such a well known story that the average person will know how it ends. As such, the movie is very engaging based on that alone. But the story does stumble a bit. The film introduces story elements that never really go anywhere. The major one is the film keep suggesting that Fred’s life will begin to fall apart because of his involvement in Mary’s case. It’s implied his professional, political, and social life could all be destroyed, along with his relationship with his girlfriend (Alexis Bledel). But this never really goes anywhere.

One of the film’s biggest strengths is in some of it’s themes. The film is making a statement about the rights of citizens even in times of war. About the battle between justice and convenience. And most importantly, how the American constitution sometimes takes a backseat to the politics of the times. All these are very relevant to are times and are handled over all well. Unfortunately, the film becomes a bit too obvious with it’s message. At times there is no subtlety and characters just flat out tell you what the themes are.

It has it’s imperfections, but I don’t understand why this film was thrown under the bus by critics. It has some very good acting, especially from Wright and McAvoy, an interesting story, and some very important themes about society. It could have been handled better, but The Conspirator is a very good film that will go down as a hidden gem of 2011.

Rating: B+

  1. Hmm.

    Ok. Beep. Beep. Beep. (That’s the sound of you putting it on my radar) LOL.

    I’ll keep an eye out for it when it hits cable! I mean, Redford’s a solid enough director…

  2. I was going to check this out when it hit theaters but I had heard bad things about it and decided to pass. I’ve been meaning to check it out since it hit DVD. Glad to know there is a chance that I will like it. Great review!

  3. ianthecool says:

    Sounds interesting as long as those themes you mention are handled well. 2011 could use a few more solid films.

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