THE CONSPIRATOR (Dir. Robert Redford, 2010)
Robert Redford's 8th film as director finds him again mining the political mechanics behind a well known controversial event. This time, it's the assassination of Abraham Lincoln with the focus being the lone female charged as a co-conspirator.
James McAvoy plays Frederick Aiken, a fresh out of law school lawyer who Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) suggests should defend the woman, boarding house owner Mary Surratt portrayed by Robin Wright.
McAvoy isn't interested in taking the case on because he thinks she's guilty, but as he gets enveloped into the back story, he begins to see the woman as a possible scapegoat.
Unfortunately the viewer doesn't get enveloped, as this is stiff glacially plotted material. It was first difficult to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with this film as surface-wise it's a handsome looking, well acted, and noble intentioned piece of work, but somehow it's a extremely dull experience in which history never comes alive.
Redford must have thought he was coming on too strong in LIONS FOR LAMBS (which he was), so he decided to delicately dramatize the proceedings here. Sadly so delicately that nothing has any weight to it, and all the player's parts are blandly rendered.
As Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Kevin Kline is the only one who carves out a convincing character, but he too is cornered inside this undercooked contraption of a non-epic.
As a by-the-numbers history lesson, THE CONSPIRATOR does put forth some undeniably important points about Constitutional rights and gives us a new angle on an ages old story, but Redford's hands off execution is too distant and dismal for the film to do anything but ultimately disappear.