UK Release date: 1st July 2011
Watched on Sky+ Sunday 29th April 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
It wasn’t until the closing credits that I realised who had directed this film and, funnily enough, I had been thinking it had some of the hallmarks of a Redford film all the way through. I like a good courtroom drama as much as the next man and this one had the added spice of being based on historical facts. I must say, for the most part, I enjoyed it, although there were one or two things that didn’t work quite so well (for me). More of that after this brief summary.
Towards the end of the American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Attempts were made on the lives of two other senior politicians which prompted a huge manhunt for the conspirators. Amongst those rounded up was Mary Surratt who owned a guesthouse at which Booth had stayed. Whilst there he had befriended her son, John, who had subsequently gone missing. All the conspirators were put on trial and it falls to a former Union soldier, Frederick Aiken, to defend Mary Surratt. What follows is a totally biased trial in which witnesses are bribed by the prosecution and the tribunal consists of Union Generals who are in the pocket of the War Minister, Edwin Stanton. So desperate is Aiken to give her a fair trial that he almost finds himself in contempt of court. I won’t tell you how it ends or the Spoiler Police will be trumping up charges against me (again).
Very well made with the look and feel you’d expect from a quality production. Everything from the costumes to the locations to the props was expertly done with great attention to detail. As far as performances go, well everyone was very good but nobody really stood out (for me). So honourable mentions go to; James McAvoy as Frederick Aiken, Robin Wright as Mary Surratt, Kevin Kline as Edwin Stanton, Evan Rachel Wood as Anna Surratt, Tom Wilkinson as Reverdy Johnson, Justin Long as Nicholas Baker, Danny Huston as Joseph Holt, James Badge Dale as William Hamilton and Colm Meaney as David Hunter.
The film has quite an exciting opening showing us the murder of President Lincoln and the aftermath. However, the middle part of the film does tend to fall a little flat. I think part of the problem is that we are never made to feel any sympathy for the accused, Mary Surratt. Yes, we can sympathise with her plight, but we are never given evidence of her innocence (or maybe it doesn’t exist). Things do pick up again towards the end and there is one particularly striking sequence that I can’t talk about without giving away spoilers (dammit!). Over all, not the most enthralling film I’ve seen on the subject, but worth a look.
My score: 7.1/10
IMDb Score: 6.9/10 (based on 11,614 votes at the time of going to press).
MetaScore: 55/100: (Based on 37 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Tomatometer’ Score: 56/100 (based on 165 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Audience’ Score: 64/100 (based on 18,675 user ratings counted at the time of going to press).
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Frederick Aiken: It's John that you want, not Mary.
Edwin Stanton: I'll take either.
Frederick Aiken: You're my witness! Should I not expect you to tell me the truth?
Reverdy Johnson: Freddy, she's not your mother, if John Surrat won't turn himself in for her, then why should you?
(Note: All were working at the time of going to press)
Official Site: http://www.conspiratorthemovie.com/