If there’s an award at this year’s TIFF for the most strained allegorical film, THE CONSPIRATOR would take the cake.
Ostensibly about the trial of the conspirators who committed the Lincoln Assassination, the work focuses on Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the burdened mother of some of the key participants and former landlady to John Wilkes Booth. Throughout the trial, we hear from a clever (and beleaguered) defense attorney who finds he must overcome the pressures for a swift conviction in order to respect the process of the Law.
There’s little in the film that hasn’t been done before, and it it wasn’t for glimpses of interesting performances or turns of phrase the film truly would be little more than a pastiche of better films. Redford wears his heart on his sleeve throughout with his direction, finding all the convenient trappings of courtroom dramas played out in a fashion telegraphed well in advance. There are moments that work despite the clunkiness of the scrip, and the fact that Justin Long managed to add a sense of gravitas despite the bondage of his popular stoner “I’m a Mac” comportment leads one to hope that he’s finally working towards roles that might exploit his talents.
You feel pandered to throughout much of the film, yet, strangely, it’s not an entire loss. THE CONSPIRATOR may be forgettable, derivative fluff, but (to butcher the metaphor) there’s just enough gristle to keep one chewing on the work for the entire running time. I’d expect better from this director, but as it stands, this is a perfectly average, watchable courtroom historical drama wrapped in the left-wing politics of contemporary America.