The Conspirator Review
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Anyone who’s passed an American history class most likely knows that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Unless you’ve studied American history more extensively, however, you probably don’t know much about the larger conspiracy surrounding Lincoln’s assassination—or the resulting trial. With Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, the newly founded American Film Company seeks to fill in the blanks that weren’t covered in your American history books.

The Conspirator focuses on the only female accused of taking part in the plot to assassinate the president: Mary Surratt (Robin Wright). After her husband’s death, Surratt moved her children to north to Washington, where she supported her family by running a boarding house. The house was often visited by Booth (Tony Kebbell), who met there with his co-conspirators—including Mary’s son, John (Johnny Simmons).

Charged with aiding in the conspiracy, Mary is brought before an impatient military tribunal. She’s reluctantly represented by Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union soldier and war hero who feels no need to defend one of Lincoln’s traitorous assassins—until he begins to realize that she might not be guilty.

It may not be an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but The Conspirator combines historical reenactment with plenty of courtroom drama to tell a story that’s fascinating for history buffs and curious movie lovers alike. Though the picture is often more washed-out than necessary and the drama sometimes feels cold and distant, the story itself is gripping and powerful—a beautiful story of a mother who will do whatever it takes to protect her son. And it’s probably pretty safe to assume that it’s more vivid—and more comprehensive—than any high school American history lecture.

Really, though, the sheer depth of the all-star cast alone makes this movie worth a look. If Robert Redford asks you to be in his movie, you’re not going to turn him down—and it looks like Redford asked half of Hollywood to join in to make The Conspirator. From bit parts to larger roles, you’ll find everyone from Kevin Kline and Tom Wilkinson to Stephen Root and a mustachioed Justin Long.

Unfortunately, though, the cast members aren’t necessarily at their best. Wright gives a beautifully subtle and understated performance as the accused mother who’s desperately trying to help her son—but many of the other performances feel stilted and wooden.

The Conspirator isn’t the kind of award-worthy drama that shows up in theaters each fall. Even the massive all-star Hollywood ensemble cast can’t keep it from feeling like a made-for-TV movie. But its courtroom suspense and real-life drama make it a history lesson that you’ll be happy to learn.

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