Best Movies of All Time + Tom Wilkinson



The Conspirator is a 2011 historical drama directed by Robert Redford that portrays the trial of the men and woman accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in the days following the "end" of the Civil War. The film essentially starts on the night of the assassination, where we meet Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a Union soldier and lawyer who is celebrating the imminent end of the war. After the President is shot, mass chaos erupts in the streets of Washington, D.C., and in a whirlwind of days, a number of individuals are either killed or brought into justice on suspicion of having something to do with the assassination plot. Aiken is brought into the military tribunal by Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the only woman accused of the treasonous act. Aiken initially struggles with the posting, citing that he fought the Southerners throughout the war and has no desire to defend one who may have helped kill Lincoln. However, as the trial commences, it becomes increasingly clear that the cards are stacked against Mary, who seems to be much more innocent than the government is willing to accept. With the help of Mary's daughter Anna (Evan Rachel Wood), Aiken sets out to prove the tribunal of Mary's innocence despite his personal beliefs to the contrary.

I was initially drawn to this film simply because it presents a historically-based story centered around one of the most tragic moments in American history. Because I'm fascinated with the history of the United States, I was intrigued to see a film that talked about the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination rather than just the murder itself. The screenplay works relatively well, and it presents a compelling argument for the innocence of Surratt, who proved by the the first woman ever sentenced to death under the United States legal system. We receive a slew of great courtroom scenes that show the lengths that the government took in order to achieve justice (read: revenge) as swiftly as possible. My only beef with the screenplay was that the dialogue all seemed a little too simplistic. I couldn't find the characters entirely believable because I just didn't believe that they would speak in the way that they did. Aside from that, however, we get a solid and easily understandable storyline to follow.

We also get a nice bit of acting from the ensemble, center-pieced by a fine performance from James McAvoy. It took me a little while to warm up to his character, but as the film progressed, I felt more and more connected with him. Aiken is given a rather complete character arc as he struggles with the loopholes the government uses in order to make the tribunal as unconstitutional as one can imagine. What starts as a terrible bit of luck turns into a fight for basic human rights as Aiken does his best to convince the generals that serve as the tribunal's jurors. I wouldn't quite say that McAvoy delivers a tour-de-force performance, but he definitely steals the show from an otherwise pedestrian group. Robin Wright is okay, but she's given a lot less screen-time than one would imagine considering her top-billing. Sadly, she doesn't do much with a role that isn't entirely developed, so it's probably not her fault. Wilkinson is rather good in a limited amount of scenes, but he definitely makes you notice him. Be on the lookout for some other relatively well-known actors, such as the following: Alexis Bledel, Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, an inexplicable Justin Long, and Norman Reedus (who's most memorable from his starring role in The Boondock Saints).

Overall, there's definitely some flaws with The Conspirator (one of the biggest being its incredibly slow pace), but there's still enough for you to latch onto and enjoy if you're in the mood for a period piece like this. If anything, go for McAvoy's performance - give him a little time, and I guarantee you that you'll fall for the character at some point.

Movie Review Summary:Grade: B-
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2011, Alexis Bledel, Conspirator, Danny Huston, drama, Evan Rachel Wood, James McAvoy, Justin Long, Kevin Kline, movie review, Norman Reedus, Robert Redford, Robin Wright, and more:

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