I expected a lot from The Conspirator, mostly based on my love of historical drama, particularly about a topic I know very little. Then there was the cast - James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Klein, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, and many strong male character actors. How could it go wrong? Sadly, it barely reaches the stage of a decent film. Based on the true story of the first woman executed in the US, it follows the death of President Abraham Lincoln, the search for his killers and their collaborators, and finally their trial and defense before execution. Most of the story focuses on Mary Surratt (Wright), the mother of one of the conspirators (the only one to be acquitted, ironically) who owned a boarding house and rented rooms to some of the others and had meetings take place at her house. She is entitled to a defense and McAvoy is asked to defend her. A returning Civil War hero, he has begun his legal career, and is excited to find his place in the new DC. He looks through all the evidence (realizing he'll be the most hated man in the world) and decides to take on the case because it's only circumstantial that she knew what might have been going on. That's pretty much where the interesting parts of the movie ends. Here are the list of things the movie COULD have addressed, but didn't.
"Why does McAvoy give a crap about this woman who won't even help in her own defense?" (His life totally falls apart because of it, but we have no idea why he cares)
"Why does the government bother to hate on this woman when they have the other 6 people involved (including the doctor who set Booth's broken leg) and don't really need her?"
"Why doesn't the term 'witch hunt' come up at all?"
"Why aren't the motives of any of the conspirators discussed?"
"Why isn't Mary's possible motive discussed beyond her being a devout Southerner?"
So basically, the movie does a fairly decent job of putting all the right pieces in one place, but doesn't bother to put the puzzle together. 2 of 5 stars/lambs
Alternatively, you can watch a movie that takes a whole lot of pieces and does a pretty terrific job putting the pieces into a whole that elevates the parts. Clint Eastwood directs a movie that takes a real life event (the south pacific tsunami from 2004) and brings an ethereal bend to the story. It follows three different stories that eventually intersect. First, Matt Damon is a able to communicate with the dead. But it gives him unwanted insights into people's lives he touches and has stopped doing it as a profession, and is trying to live a life a bit more alone. Meanwhile, Cecile De France (in her first English film I think) was in the tsunami and was nearly killed and experienced something that can't be discussed in most company about what happens after you die. And back in London, a pair of twins are trying to navigate raising themselves and avoid being taken from their druggie mother. They've set up a system that works, but when one of them is killed in a car accident, the life for the other twin changes forever and he tries to figure out how to go on - seeking advice from his dead brother (the one who was always in charge before).
It's a really beautiful movie, from the score to the visuals. Watching the tsunami come through you can absolutely see why it was a good idea to pull the movie from Japanese markets last year. It's horrifying beyond words, even through the very small slice we experience through De France's character. Even the portrayal of the afterlife that appears sometimes doesn't force you into a belief of any kind, but rather watches the beliefs of those on screen play out and change. It's a hard movie to describe, but I really enjoyed the experience. It's sad, but heartwarming, tragic and hopeful. 4.5 of 5 stars/lambs
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