Wednesday, 27 July 2011

“What about the woman?”

The Conspirator: directed by Robert Redford; written by James D. Solomon
I couldn’t possibly write anything on Robert Redford period/political drama without pointing the way to Tim’s review which says everything I could possibly say with much more alacrity. So, in a way, this review suffices as something of a footnote because even though I’ve got nothing particularly new to the table I’d feel bad devoting nary a word to the film. The first I heard about The Conspirator was a post that RC of Strange Culture did before it was released, and there’s no doubt that American History is mellifluous enough to precipitate dozens of interesting tales about the Civil War era and whatnot. There is an interesting story to be told in The Conspirator, but there’s a devastatingly trite way in which it is told.
Court-room dramas are in many ways a dime a dozen on film, and even less on television but The Conspirator has a strident hook, and I’m not just talking about the fact that it’s based on a true story. The imprudence with which the trial against Mary Surratt unfolds is a fine example of the lesser aspects of the human race but Solomon’s script approaches the issue with a stifling lack of zest. The technical aspects of the film are done with the right amount of gloom necessary for the proceeding but the script itself peters between unwarranted sagacity and occasional hectoring. And Redford is the kind of director who’s obviously interested in making a “statement” so there’s a fighting tendency for his directing to encourage the script’s occasionally heavy handed nature.
But, the cast subverts that nature. I feel a bit annoyed with Redford that he has such a brilliant cast and fails to give them impeccable work. But, looking at the film you wouldn’t know it, well not really. It’s a good ensemble and the actors are all willing to put in credible work. I was looking forward to The Conspirator because of Robin Wright. She made my list of nominees in 2009 for her work The Private Lives of Pippa Lee a film she held down with her luminescence. She doesn’t get to do quite as much here because as much as the film is named after her titular character Solomon’s narrative seems more interested in James McAvoy Aiken, the war hero turned lawyer. And, McAvoy is fine – as is the entire cast – but it’s such a shame that Wright in particular is forced to play her role in a single register (excellently, but still). The film’s female cast – made of Wright, Evan Rachel Wood (impressive in a role that’s too small) and Alexis Bledel in a surprisingly poignant turn. Even though Wright is the de facto lead Redford is intent to leave her for the men of the narrative, sometimes to the disservice of the film. It’s a true shame that Wood and Wright never get a proper scene together.
I can’t berate Redford for trying to make a statement with his own film, but the unfortunate thing is - The Conspirator is not the type of film where entertainment needs to be sacrificed for edification. There’s enough material for his “message” to hit home. It probably won’t be remembered as the end of the year as anything seminal, and it’s not really seminal in fact but even though the film itself is imperfect it’s home for a talented cast and some fine technical work. It’s strange, the film is about the woman behind it all but it’s really about men...too many men.


Yojimbo_5 said...

Hmmm. On the other hand, she's stuck in a bare prison cell for the duration of the film. She was NOT allowed to see her daughter (so that sacrifices a scene between Wood and Wright), and this injustice and injustices DID take place, and this film was straining to be historically accurate. We can gin up drama if we want, but...isn't the story compelling enough? The woman was railroaded with the true conspirators merely as a tactic and as a result of the hysteria of the times and for the sake of political showmanship, which makes it extraodinarily relevant.

Ryan T. said...

I was left relatively unimpressed with the film as well. Actually more disappointed than anything because while it IS a fascinating story, it just wasn't told in a fascinating way. A waste of the actors who were in this.

True story: After I saw the film in theaters, as I waited for my friend in the bathroom two girls had this conversation:

Girl 1: So she was clearly guilty right? She obviously killed Lincoln.
Girl 2: She didn't kill Lincoln! Didn't you notice James McAvoy was still alive in the end?
Girl 1: Oh right.

I am so dead serious this is what I overheard. I'm thinking they were brain damaged, severely drunk, or was probably sleeping, because WOW.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

yojimbo i don't know, maybe the film should have started before she came to jail then? i don't know, it just felt like robin had little to do - she did it excellently, but still.

ryan ummmm, what? who are these people and why? this is too funny.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Totally agree with everything you've said here. It all felt like such a waste of a great true story bogged down with liberal preachy sentimentality.

And I'm a sentimental liberal that this should appeal to.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ben hahaha. i too am vaguely liberal, so it was a bit too preachy...but not really TERRIBLE. i really wished it could have been robin's breakthrough, though.