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The Conspirator movie poster

The Conspirator Movie Review

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The Conspirator: A Pleasant Shot to the Head

The life and assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of the most widely known periods of American history, and yet one of the least explored by modern cinema. In The Conspirator, director Robert Redford focuses on the trial of Mary Surratt, who was accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to murder Lincoln. The movie is one of 2011's best so far.

James McAvoy stars as Frederick Aiken, a former Union soldier and lawyer who is assigned to defend Mary (Robin Wright) in a military tribunal. Despite little evidence to prove without a reasonable doubt that Mary was involved in the conspiracy, it becomes very clear to Frederick that the jury - made up of Union generals - has already made up their mind.

The Conspirator is a well written and engrossing movie, a refreshing courtroom drama that stands out from the average theatrical release. Redford paints a sepia picture of the time period; the production is simple yet detailed, beautiful in its own kind of way.

The movie relies heavily on its performances, and had it been released later in the year we'd be talking more seriously about James McAvoy as a potential nominee. McAvoy is excellent, delivering a powerful and emotional performance. He continues to prove he's one of the best young actors working today.

The supporting cast is also strong, filled by Robin Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson.

Some may find parts of the movie slow, but Redford's deliberate pacing is perfect. The film grabs a hold in minute one and doesn't let go until the end. Few courtroom dramas can boast that.

The Conspirator is a surprisingly effective, entertaining and engaging courtroom drama, one that shouldn't be overlooked.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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