Movie Review

The Conspirator

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent content.

Reviewed by: Thaisha Geiger
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
History Drama
Length:
2 hr. 3 min.
Year of Release:
2011
USA Release:
April 15, 2011 (wide—550+ theaters)
DVD: August 16, 2011
Copyright, Lionsgate click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Lionsgate

murder in the Bible

death

anger in the Bible

justice

justice of God

Just One

judge

law

hanging

REVENGE, love replaces hatred—former Israeli soldier and an ex-PLO fighter prove peace is possible-but only with Jesus Christ

Featuring: Evan Rachel WoodAnna Surratt
James McAvoyFrederick Aiken
Alexis BledelSarah Weston
Robin Wright PennMary Surratt
Justin LongNicholas Baker
Danny Huston … Joseph Holt
Norman Reedus … Lewis Payne
Kevin KlineEdwin Stanton
Tom WilkinsonReverdy Johnson
Jonathan Groff … Louis Weichmann
Stephen Root … John Lloyd
Toby Kebbell … John Wilkes Booth
more »
Director: Robert Redford
Producer: American Film Company, The
Wildwood Enterprises
Jeremiah Samuels … executive producer
Brian Peter Falk … producer
more »
Distributor: Lionsgate

“One bullet killed the President. But not one man.”

Copyrighted, Lionsgate

It’s been 150 years since the Civil War and the first assassination of a president. Though John Wilkes Booth is almost universally known for pulling the trigger, he was part of a much larger conspirator circle, involving several other members and several other attempted assassinations. The only woman to be tried for conspiracy was Mary Surratt.

The U.S. Constitution requires a person to have a jury of their peers. Since Mrs. Surratt’s case took place within the last few ripples of the Civil War, she was tried in a military tribunal of high-ranking Union officials. Of course, this turned out to be incredibly biased and screamed of an unfair trial. Adding to that was the corruption of the prosecutor. Not only did he personally select the members of the tribunals, he was also guilty of witness tampering and intimidation (Proverbs 17:23). Unfair overrulings also worked against Ms. Surratt as she was forbidden of testifying in her own defense. The Union officials had only one goal in mind: swift justice.

Those looking to learn more about the life and detailed trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn) will likely be disappointed. Though the bulk of the film consists of tribunal proceedings and flashbacks, the film’s main objective is not to persuade the viewer of Mary’s guilt or innocence. No, it is to show regardless of her innocence, she was denied a fair trial which is guaranteed in the most important document of the U.S. government: the Constitution. In fact, Mary’s character remains more aloof than anything. Robin Wright gives one of her fiercest and most gentle performances to date. A seeming oxymoron, at first glance, Wright gives the character of Surratt enough emotion and conviction to display a devoted mother who, though facing the death penalty, refuses to give up her son, who had been more of a front runner in the Lincoln assassination.

Defending her is Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy). A celebrated Union soldier, Mr. Aiken was understandably aghast at having to defend a Confederate sympathizer. His disgust with her convictions was soon wisely set aside when he decided to uphold his oath as a lawyer (Ephesians 4:31). Regardless of her actions, Frederick rightfully defended his client, despite his being ostracized, mocked, and warned (Psalm 106:3; Prov. 21:3). In spite of all this, he remains steadfast in providing justice for his client. Likewise, Jesus proclaimed his sovereignty and lordship, despite his being mocked and turned against. His followers are required to do the same in Luke 9:23-24:

“…‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.’”

Refreshingly, there isn’t any sexual content in “The Conspirator.” Two characters do kiss, but it’s sweet. In all, there are about 11 uses of profanity, including 1 SOB, 1 sh*t, 1 hell, and 6 d*mn. Though two of the latter were used correctly in saying someone was damned. God’s name is misused twice. Some social drinking takes place, but no one is shown drunk. The violence is moderate, but it’s neither overly graphic. Lincoln is shown being shot up close, but the wound is not shown. One man stabs a guard and then jumps on top of another and repeatedly stabs him. Hangings are shown. Though the victims are not shown slowly dying, one can hear when the rope disturbingly tightens as the bodies fall. Some wounded soldiers are shown in the opening scenes and have bloody faces. However, this is a very mild scene.

The film displays a good number of historical accuracies. However, I felt that perhaps Frederick Aiken was portrayed as a bit too overly heroic. Little is known of him, and research shows that he did have his inadequacies when defending Ms. Surratt. The film has a heavy, consistent motif of the government conveniently skipping the rights of the Constitution, whenever they deem fit. Perhaps some might consider this to be a modern commentary, as well. If you’re into history, like I am, then I recommend this film. It mentions some constitutional vocabulary which had me wanting to delve deeper. However, if history does not overly interest you, then you might find this film boring.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—While “The Conspirator” may not live up to the entire requirements of Philippians 4:8, it does hold up to being true, noble, and right. Produced by the American Film Company, which is dedicated to making films as historically accurate as possible, this movie is recommendable for truly sticking to the truth of a tragic incident in US History.

The film is noble and right as it shows a former Union officer learning to show forgiveness and mercy to a former enemy. It shows a wonderful example of sacrificial motherhood, which is refreshing in a day when Hollywood is always attacking parents.

I was not only touched at this example of a loving mother, but also at the spiritual analogy. Mary Surratt’s willingness to lay down her live for that of her guilty son reminded me of how Christ was willing to lay down his life for his guilty children. Fredrick Aiken’s bravery in standing for right in the face of political and social pressure is inspiring.

Objectionable content: There were about 5 ds, a sh—,and maybe a few other bad words. When a priest says he obeys God’s Word above man’s, the main character replies that the Bible has many interpretations. There were a few violent parts dealing with the assassination and the hanging, but they were rather tame compared to most PG-13 movies out there. There was also drinking. Mary Surratt’s faith is shown in making her a strong woman in the face of death. At one point, she and the main character quote the Proverbs.

Again, the themes of forgiveness, mercy, motherly love, and doing the right thing in the face of impregnable opposition make this film highly recommendable. Any historian of the Civil War will be able to make connections between the discard for constitutional rights and civil liberties from that era and the troubles today as large government trumps individual rights. A film like “The Conspirator” can help inspire us to stand against injustice. Go see this movie!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Charles, age 24 (USA)
Positive—I loved this movie! Everything about it was excellently done. Even when I knew what the outcome of the story would be, it kept my attention riveted to the screen. I would recommend it to anyone who likes watching historical dramas.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
Neutral

none

Negative
Negative—We had read this was a very historically accurate film, but it is nothing more than political propaganda from the left wing liberals. The entire film is meant to leave you believing that a government fighting terrorists should leave all prosecution of terrorists to civil law rather than military—Guantanamo Bay. It somehow still amazes me how Hollywood can manage to get their agenda into everything, even a historical drama. I do not recommend anyone supporting this film by watching it. You won’t be missing anything. We should also be careful about letting our children be exposed to this sort of liberal thinking.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—GW, age 56 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—This was an amazing movie. Not only is there very, very little objectionable content (moderate violence and a few mild choice words, and one or two kisses), but also there is a huge, very valuable moral lesson that is true for each of us and our country, especially in times such as these. After Lincoln’s death, government officials wanted revenge so badly that they were willing to overstep constitutional lines and the lines of justice. In this movie, I came away with the very clear message: do not let your emotions get in the way of justice.

This is true in so many situations: our day-to-day dealings with each other, and our large scale interactions as a community, a country. This movie made my blood boil because of the injustice that Mrs. Surratt faced. To us watching it today, the injustice seems so obvious, but to the people living then the lines were blurred by their want for vengeance. I do not know the historical particulars surrounding Mrs. Surratt’s trial, but the film was moving, fueled by James McAvoy’s ever splendid performance and the vivid historical setting.

In the end, this movie is a wonderful, emotional lesson to follow the laws of justice even in the face of opposition, whether that opposition comes from outside… or from inside your own heart.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Hannah A., age 17 (USA)
Movie Critics

…Speeches, orations, objections, rebuttals—so many different ways to talk, argue and pontificate, and they’re all on prominent display in Robert Redford’s expansively chatty American history lesson, “The Conspirator.” Using the fascinating, little-known events immediately following Lincoln’s assassination to rebuke the mob mentality that would deny any defendant a fair trial, this methodical courtroom drama is charged with impassioned performances and an unimpeachable liberal message. But its stodgy emphasis on telling over showing will limit its reach to Civil War buffs and self-selecting older viewers, given the mainstream aversion even to period dramas more action-oriented than this.…
—Justin Chang, Variety

…an unusually literate and thoughtful historical film, working from years of research by his screenwriter, James Solomon. I found it absorbing and relevant today.… [3/4]
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

…This is by no means a great movie, but in telling a gripping and little-known true story with many contemporary resonances it has time(liness) on its side. …Redford doesn’t belabour the parallels between then and now, now and then, but they’re striking (and apt) nevertheless.… [3 stars]
—J.A., The Globe and Mail

…As a history flick with meat on its bones, it stays true to the more genteel decorum of the day it depicts. And it leaves us to gnaw on the gristle and grit of what makes people do what they do, even when what they do goes down in history as the worst things possible.…
—Paul Asay, Plugged In

…A hauntingly relevant, if somewhat dry exercise, “The Conspirator” asks us to ponder crimes committed in the name of a nation hungry for blood in response to a horrific act against it.… [B]
—James Verniere, The Boston Herald

…a cautionary, overly familiar tale… the film’s slow ramp-up, linear progression and herky-jerky sense of continuity in the courtroom scenes impair its momentum.… [2½]
—Duane Dudek, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel