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3 stars (out of 5)
Director: Robert Redford
Cast: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Huston, Colm Meaney, Tom Wilkinson
The Conspirator seizes on a lesser-known chapter in American history - the trial following Abraham Lincoln's assassination - and creates what is, in many respects, a filmed stage play.
Just days after the end of the American Civil War, John Wilkes Booth and two accomplices carried out a plan to throw the fragile union into disarray. Having assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, and failed in their attempt to kill the vice-president and secretary of state, the confederate conspirators were rounded up and put on trial.
One of the accused is boarding-house owner Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who is charged with aiding and abetting her co-defendants, but it soon transpires that the case against Surratt is part of a wider prosecution strategy to lure Surratt's son, John, out of hiding.
Just as it appears she is to be hung out to dry, union war hero Frederick Aiken reluctantly takes up the role as her defence counsel.
There's plenty of great dialogue, which makes the laboured courtroom proceedings relatively enticing, while James McAvoy convincingly portrays the anguish of a man caught between his beliefs and the plight of his client.
There are blatant nods to contemporary US concerns, such as the trade-off between the public good and justice in a climate of fear.
The Conspirator certainly means well, but does not have enough substance to go with the political message.
Best thing: The script, the dialogue is sharp and well delivered.
Worst thing: Lapsing into a pedestrian pace every now and then.
See it with: No prior knowledge of the story, it will help with the pay-off.
- Mark Orton