A roundup of reviews for “The Conspirator”

I already posted my own review of The Conspirator here.

I thought it would be interesting to look at few other reviews.

In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane complains a bit about the overly obvious parallels to today: “one wishes that the director had found the grace to touch upon, rather than belabor, the parallels between the conspirators of 1865 and the present-day inmates of Guantánamo: the humiliating hoods that they are forced to wear, and the adjudicating presence of a military tribunal instead of a civilian jury.”

Lane mocks the soft lighting and mistiness of many of the scenes and complains that James McAvoy doesn’t have enough to do as Frederick Aiken. But Lane has much good to say about the film:

Still, despite these disappointments credit is due to “The Conspirator.” It may never supply the more troublesome, hard-bitten version of events that is there for the asking, but it does trace a minor, absorbing tributary of the vast Lincoln story, hitherto explored by specialists alone; whether Mary Surratt, for instance, will rate a mention, let alone a sequence, in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Lincoln movie remains to be seen. Robin Wright is drawn and dignified in the martyrish role, and you believe in her heart-torn response as Aiken attempts to rescue her, late in the day, by incriminating her son.

At The New York Times, A. O. Scott ultimately sees The Conspirator as a “well-meaning, misbegotten movie” that ironically feeds into a larger “Dixie sentimentality” by making Surratt so stoic and the federal government so hapless, while ignoring the entire issue of slavery:

Dixie sentimentality is woven into the fabric of American culture. But it is curious that “The Conspirator,” while it includes a scene in which Mary speaks with tragic, misty eloquence about “the cause,” declines to note, even in passing, that her cause was the defense of a way of life built on the labor of human chattel. If you think I’m nit-picking or being politically correct, try to imagine a movie about the Nuremburg trials that never mentioned Jews, or a film about modern terrorism from which the word Islam was banished.

The omission matters because it undermines the film’s integrity, helping to turn what might have been a vivid and thoughtful ethical drama into a flat, tendentious history lecture.

Ty Burr with The Boston Globe has even more objections:

“The Conspirator’’ is an important film, on an important subject, that has had the life beaten out of it by Robert Redford, a man who should know better. How is it possible that the moving force behind the Sundance Film Festival, an event ostensibly dedicated to keeping the cinema young, has made such a stodgy, ham-handed waxwork?

Christy Lemire with the AP has similar complaints:

Redford’s film, based on a script by James D. Solomon, is stately and respectable to a fault: It’s too safe. It feels the need to bang us over the head with how important it is. And Redford is trying way too hard to make these events from a century and a half ago seem like a relevant metaphor for where we are as a nation post-9/11.

Karina Mitchell with CBS News doesn’t much like the movie either:

“The Conspirator” gets bogged down by meticulous attention to historical facts and political tone. Add the philosophical undercurrent that delves into the justice system and prevailing ethics and Redford’s film feels like it belongs more in a high school lecture hall than on a big screen.

It will be interesting to see how the film does at the box office.

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