Admit it. I’m kind of dreamy.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/15/2011
Director: Robert Redford
Cast: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Danny Huston, Alexis Bledel, Stephen Root, Norman Reedus, Johnny Simmons, Shea Whigham, Colm Meaney, Jonathan Groff
Rated: PG-13 for some violent content.
Runtime: 2 hours, 3 minutes


Is there an Indian in the cupboard?

Opening April 15th, “The Conspirator” comes from director Robert Redford. It follows events surrounding the trial of Mary Surrat, accused of being involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and other government officials.

If you’re thinking this is basically a higher budget History Channel film, you’re … basically right. However, this also attempts to blend the facts with an emotional plea and it’s where the film becomes less and less palatable.

James McAvoy plays a Civil War hero turned lawyer who at first reluctantly takes on Surrat’s case; but like all courtroom dramas of this type, we know of course that he’ll eventually become so involved that it threatens to ruin his whole life (Was Matthew McConaughey busy or something?). McAvoy does what he can based on the script but it’s an uphill battle to turn the predictable path of the lawyer/client/society relationships into anything interesting.

Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston and Kevin Kline are among the chief players in the legal saga. Like McAvoy’s character, everyone seems like they were created via screenwriting formula though I would hope that the historical advisors on the project kept things as accurate as possible. Still, the trio of veteran actors, and Robin Wright who plays Mary Surrat, all gave what they could to the roles.

But while there are a number of good actors scattered amongst the cast, two others stick out like sore thumbs. First, there’s Justin Long who seems to continually define anachronistic as he reads the script aloud; I was half hoping for him to whip out an iPad to show McAvoy some turn-by-turn horse riding directions. Then there’s Alexis Bledel, who seems to prove over and over again that her “Gilmore Girls” role is the one note she’s capable of playing. Like Long, she too feels simply out of place (and time), halting any sense of historical accuracy Redford was going for.

Going back to Redford, one of the worst filmmaking choices he made involved camera shots and light balance. Simply put, the movie looks like it was shot at some Wild West theme park and I kept expecting some fake shootout in the streets so a guy could crash through balcony railings and fall into a hay bale. As for the completely distracting lighting, every time sunlight streams through a window, it does so like God’s light shining down on the scene; at first I thought there was a problem with the projector or a particular reel of film (and no, I’m not kidding, it’s that noticeable), but as it continues throughout and is noticeable in the trailer, I realize it’s simply Redford feeling important.

Not being completely aware of the particular events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, I was happy to get a small history lesson but this is the kind of production best left on cable TV and done with far less recognizable actors. Worse still, it’s courtroom drama at its most cliché and you’re much better off re-watching practically any John Grisham novel-turned-film to get the same sentiment. A 1.5 out of 5, “The Conspirator” is a complete misfire and only hardcore Lincoln-era trivia buffs may find something useful here.

1.5 out of 5