Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Conspirator

“I would do anything to ensure the survival of this nation,” says the war secretary (Kevin Kline) to the lawyer defending a woman accused of conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. By this he means that if a possibly innocent woman needs to be sacrificed (i.e. murdered by the state in the form of execution) in order to restore order and maintain peace in “this nation”, thus saving countless other lives, then so be it.

It is not a big leap from that statement and that sentiment to the suggestion that “the survival of this nation(‘s wealthy elite) must be ensured at any cost even if it means using lies about 9/11 and WMDs to invade and occupy a country at the cost of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives". Hundreds of other examples also apply. For that reason alone, The Conspirator is worth watching and worthy of appreciation.

The Conspirator is not about the possibly innocent woman, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), on trial for conspiracy to assassinate the president, but about the lawyer, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), who is forced to defend her. Aiken is understandably reluctant to defend a woman all believe to be guilty of this most horrific of crimes. His reputation and friendships are at stake. But as he goes through the process of defending Mary, he realizes that the very process of justice hangs in the balance. Guilty or innocent, Mary deserves a fair trial and Aiken becomes obsessed with making sure she gets it.

As I watched Aiken fight the corrupt domination system of his time, I couldn’t help thinking that Robert Redford, at 75, made The Conspirator as his own personal attack on injustice, standing up to challenge the way the domination system today treats people as pawns in its protection of power and wealth.

While The Conspirator has a great message, it is, unfortunately, not a great film. It is intelligent, relatively well-acted, and is full of beautiful cinematography, but it is too slow-moving even for me, with a screenplay that verges on dull. It takes a lot of guts to make a film so quiet and thoughtful instead of appealing to the masses with something full of action, suspense and melodrama. It made me realize that I might have been too hasty in granting Anonymous (which has more than its share of melodrama) four stars. Nevertheless, I cannot give The Conspirator more than a solid *** for effort. My mug is up but the brew inside is rather bland.

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