Monday, March 26, 2012
The Conspirator. C+
A story relating to Lincoln's assassination should pique any American's interest, yet that does remove the fact that the history lesson in Robert Redford's year-old The Conspirator is pretty dull in and of itself. Essentially what's going on here is that John Wilkes Booth was part of a conspiracy to kill Lincoln, holding secret meetings in the boarding house of Mary Surratt. Surratt is accused of being a part of the plot and goes to trial, but is denied a proper jury. The Union is eager to simply get the case wrapped up so that the public will know who was responsible for killing their beloved president. James McAvoy plays a young lawyer and war hero who reluctantly takes Surratt's case only to gradually believe her innocence. So what we have here is a dry little court room drama with insipid performances (except Danny Huston), a generic score, heavy handed storytelling, and a history lesson that's unfortunately a bore. It's a good story to know, but I could get the gist of it in a paragraph rather than sitting through Redford's well-intended but maladroit film. The director mainly seems interested in the historical aspect of the film, but this also has to be a movie as well, and it fails completely in that regard. There's a try at comic relief with an ill-cast Justin Long, and an almost pointless romance that ends far too predictably. This isn't an awful movie, but it feels too makeshift, like it was shot with the first draft of the screenplay. It's not particularly fun or compelling, making it a bad start for The American Film Company, a new studio whose purpose is to produce historical dramas. Right now they've got a script in the works for a movie on Paul Revere. I don't question the research, but I do hope they have greater cinematic ambitions than shown here.