The conspirator of the film’s title is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the woman who owned the boarding house where the accomplices met in secret and whose son was closely tied to Booth. Blinded by revenge and an unrelenting desire to put the matter to rest, the American State Department completely disregarded the rule of law and Surratt’s constitutional rights in their fervor to secure a conviction. James McAvoy deftly plays Frederick Aiken, the attorney assigned to defend Surratt and who ends up fighting overwhelming opposition from the seats of power in his quest for a fair trial.
Despite a very modest budget, director Robert Redford does an excellent job of re-creating the assassination and events that followed. The proceedings have a strong sense of immediacy, giving the viewer the feeling of actually being there. The production design is exemplary, and the period detail is first rate. The attention to historical accuracy is evident in every frame, right down to the type of nails used in the gallows scaffolding where the condemned were executed.
Unfortunately though, this is the most consistently grainy picture I’ve seen in a film made this recently. Interior shots of Surratt’s jail cell and the courtroom are lit so dourly that they take on an almost sepia tone. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack offers little in the way of enveloping ambi- ence except for one sequence where Booth’s horse rides right over the camera. Other than that, it’s a run-of-the-mill sound mix.
Extras include a feature-length audio commentary with Redford with the option of PiP bonus view. An hour-long documentary details the historical events surrounding the assassination and the people involved. There are also numerous short featurettes that cover the making of the film, along with the trailer, TV spots, a photo gallery, and a bookmarking option.
The Conspirator is an absorbing film that suggests that government corruption and abuse of power is hardly a new thing in this country. How comforting to know that little has changed.
Studio: Lionsgate, 2011
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 122 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Robert Redford
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline