Complete A-Z list

Conspirator, The


Stars: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Alexis Bledel, Danny Huston,Justin Long, Colm Meaney, James Badge Deal, Toby Kebbell, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Root

Director: Robert Redford

Hollywood is nothing if not weird. What on earth persuaded someone to cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan? Why did a laddie play family cinema’s favourite four-legged bitch Lassie? Now we can add to these oddities the strange case of Tom Wilkinson. Despite his patent and frequently proven inability to speak with a convincing American accent, Hollywood continues to cast him in American-speaking roles. Here, in this essentially American drama, he wrestles risibly with what he believes is a Southern accent, only to be floored time and time again, providing an uncomfortable tang of comedy to an otherwise po-faced and serious show.

James Solomons’ stodgy screenplay follows the plainly rigged trial of one woman and seven men charged with conspiring to kill President Abraham Lincoln, whose assassination opens the film. What follows is seriously serious as soldier-turned-lawyer McAvoy fights the biased military court to try and save Wright, who ran the boarding house where assassin John Wilkes Booth met others to plan the President’s death, from being hanged.

McAvoy’s compelling performance is one of the key elements that held me while director Redford turned the tale into the kind of well-intentioned but hardly gripping drama usually fed to reluctant pupils as a schools’ television broadcast. In fact, time and again I felt I was watching a TV miniseries masquerading as a movie. Good intentions do not automatically result in good entertainment.

That said, Redford rustles up strong suspense from the courtroom proceedings and creates a good sense of period, and Kline and Huston emote well: sadly Wright’s pallid portrait of a saint-to-be is thin on the ground. Ironically, in a week where Star Trek alumni Leonard Nimoy and George Takei turned up on screen (in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Larry Crowne respectively) The Conspirator makes it a triple whammy with Meaney from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine leading the military prosecutors in their determination to see the accused hanged.

Alan Frank

USA 2010. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by deluxe.
122 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 30 Jun 2011