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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She kept the nest that hatched the egg
When I went to see this movie I knew nothing about it. The trailer merely indicated a period courtroom drama starring James McAvoy.

While I would hesitate to call it one of the best movies of the year, undoubtedly this movie or more precisely the story this movie relates impacted me more deeply than most do. So much so that I have bought several books on the...
Published on 19 Aug 2011 by L. Power

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A Metaphor for today's politics!
Not a bad film, some considerable licence with the true facts, more a metaphor to show
how nothing changes in politics
Published 5 months ago by Alan Brown


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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She kept the nest that hatched the egg, 19 Aug 2011
By 
L. Power "nlp trainer" (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
When I went to see this movie I knew nothing about it. The trailer merely indicated a period courtroom drama starring James McAvoy.

While I would hesitate to call it one of the best movies of the year, undoubtedly this movie or more precisely the story this movie relates impacted me more deeply than most do. So much so that I have bought several books on the subject to get as full an understanding of this event as possible.

As an experienced director and actor Robert Redford knows how to push the audiences buttons, making socially relevant, and relatable movies.

Here is a true story of a divided country just arrived at an uneasy peace after a bitter civil war, when recently reinaugurated President Lincoln is suddenly assassinated by an actor in a theater. Not only is the president assassinated, there is a simultaneous attempt to murder the Secretary of State Seward, and Vice President Johnson.

As the manhunt begins for Booth, and his accomplices, suspicions turn to a young known associate John Surratt. Police go to his house, and in his absence end up arresting his mother Mary Surratt for being complicit in the crime of which he is suspected. But is she guilty of being a conspirator, or just guilty of being a mother of an alleged one, an innocent running a boarding house where these conspirators would meet?

She is remanded to be tried in a military court. Frank Aiken, a young veteran of the Union Army, becomes her unwilling counsel. Her rights to a jury trial in a civilian court overruled, one can sense that the odds stacked against her. It's a desperate situation. Her guilt appears to be a foregone conlusion. She is not permitted to testify in her own defencse. Will her son return and save the day? If you're like me these are some of the questions that may run through your mind as you watch this movie.

Other people arrested with her testify for the state implicating her in the conspiracy. These people are not themselves charged. An alcoholic bartender, John Lloyd, very lucky not to be charged himself firmly impicates her with extremely damning uncorroborated testimony. A boarder Louis Weichman testifies that some of the conspirators met at her house on numerous occasions. But if he knew so much how come he did not report his suspicions to the authorities in advance?

Probably most shocking for me was new President Johnson, suspending a writ of habeas corpus written by a judge, on a matter of life and death, a precedent ironically set by Lincoln to be used in wartime, now used to seal the conspirators fates in peacetime.

I found this interference by the executive office in a judicial proceeding to be most surprising and shocking, and difficult to believe, but it turns out to be true. I checked.

For dramatic purposes, some minor but significant facts have been altered. For example, Mary Surratt had two counsel not one. In addition, there were eight people on trial not four. The four not included in the movie were given life sentences, and those surviving would ultimately be pardoned by President Johnson within four years.

One life sentence to Dr Mudd, 'his name is mud,' who treated Booth's fractured leg, and another to Ned Spangler, the stage hand and stable boy asked by Booth to hold his horse, while he went into the theater.

President Johnson famously said of her, "She kept the nest that hatched the egg."

I highly recommend this movie. If you have further interest in this topic I recommend the books American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiraciesand Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (P.S.), both of which I own, and to a somewhat lesser degree The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln.

Two different people watching this movie could arrive at a totally different conclusion about Mary Surratt's complicity, and I think that's the way Redford would like it, to keep the mystery alive. It kept it alive for me.

I hope you enjoy this movie and I hope this review was helpful.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Film making at it's best, 4 Sep 2011
By 
E. Evlogidis "Van66" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
The Conspirator is a wonderful example of how a film based on historical fact can not only be highly entertaining but also very moving.

The Story itself centres on Mary Surratt, a Southern Belle and Confederate supporter who runs a boarding house in Washington D.C. Surratt's son, also a staunch supporter of the confederate cause and courier during the war became involved in a failed plot, concocted by John Wilkes Booth to kidnap President Lincoln. Of course it is Booth who later shoots the President and it is through this link with Booth and the fact that a number of the assassins stayed at her boarding house that Mary becomes linked to the conspirators and is put on trial for the assassination of the President.

I have to say that knowing a little of the Surratt story before watching this film in no way spoiled the atmosphere or the tension of the piece. Robert Redford as a Director obviously feels quite strongly about this story and the sympathetic way in which Mary's story is told only heightens the feeling that justice was not being served as well as it might.

I don't want to give too much away suffice to say that If you are interested in History, (particularly the U.S Civil War), Court-Room Dramas, or just old fashioned Human interest stories told with heart, then this is a film you will enjoy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cautionary Tale of Capital Punishment, 12 Dec 2011
By 
S. EXETER "Online-Inquirer" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
As soon as I heard that Robert Redford was directing a film about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln I wanted to see it, more so than the long awaited Steven Spielberg biopic which has been put back yet again; this time until after November 2012's Presidential elections ostensibly to avoid it becoming "political fodder" but more likely to maximise its Oscar potential for 2013.

I recently became fascinated with the Lincoln assassination after listening to the original Off-Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, particularly The Ballad of Booth which explores the psyche of John Wilkes Booth (Victor Garber) and examines Abraham Lincoln's legacy in light of the Abolition of Slavery and the American Civil War.

The Conspirator is the debut feature of the newly founded American Film Company which has taken up the remit to produce historically accurate, entertaining movies based on great stories from the USA's collective past; in this case the account of Mary Surratt the owner of the boarding house where Booth regularly met with his fellow conspirators one of which was Mary's own son, John.

In its opening scene The Conspirator quickly establishes the character of Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a decorated hero of the Union Army who now works as a trial lawyer in immediate post-war Washington. It also succinctly depicts the scope of the assassination plot which targeted not only the President but Vice President, Andrew Johnson and the Secretary of State, William Seward; with the intent of rallying the diehard Confederate troops who had not surrendered into a revived attack.

Whilst John Wilkes Booth was killed resisting capture the rest of the conspirators were arrested and charged with treason, among them Mary Surratt whose son, John remained on the run. The War Secretary Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) determined that a military tribunal should swiftly convict the conspirators despite controversial elder statesmen Reverdy Johnson's (Tom Wilkinson) view that the constitutional principles of the Founding Fathers were under threat if civilians are not given a fair trial by jury.

Convinced that she was merely being used as a pawn to coax her son out from hiding Johnson approaches Aiken asking him to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) as he feared his own reputation since advocating on behalf of southern slave-owners in the infamous Dred Scott lawsuit would only serve to further prejudice the case against her. As a staunch Yankee Aiken is reluctant to come to Surratt's aid but agrees to meet with her although after a series of prison interviews he remains unconvinced of her innocence.

Aiken faces a lot of hostility and comes under increasing pressure from Union friends and colleagues to resign as Surratt's council. In the face of such adversity Aiken digs deeper into the evidence and it becomes apparent that key witnesses are being paid for favourable testimonies. In addition the accused is not permitted to testify on her behalf and almost all of his objections are summarily dismissed by the tribunal made up entirely of Union Generals all who served as pallbearers at Lincoln's funeral.

Inevitably Mary Surratt is found guilty by the court but they deliberate over sentencing her to death as she is a woman. However, in order not to appear weak for fear of encouraging intransigence in the remaining Confederate troops, Edwin Stanton overturns the decision and Mary is hanged despite an 11th hour writ of habeas corpus drafted by Aiken and indorsed by Supreme Court Judge, Andrew Wylie.

The Conspirator is an engaging historical drama in the courtroom tradition, solidly acted by a flawless ensemble cast. James McAvoy gives a sincere performance and Robin Wright remains the epitome of stoicism throughout. There are some obvious parallels drawn to the present era in light of the Patriot Act but Redford admirably resists overly pat comparisons or overwrought sentimentality in presenting Surratt's tragic case.

An ironic coda reveals that 18 months after Mary was sentenced to death, John Surratt was detained and tried by a jury of his peers only to be acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence for his part in the conspiracy; an irrefutable case against capital punishment extremely timely in the light of the recent Georgia State execution of Troy Davis for the murder of a police officer despite inconclusive ballistic evidence.

Finally I was surprised to read that Frederick Aiken went on to edit the Washington Post the newspaper synonymous with Robert Redford since his landmark performance as celebrated reporter Bob Woodward in Alan J. Pakula's iconic film version of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate expose All The President's Men.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Period courtroom drama, 16 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
Court room dramas are usually quite watchable (the best in my opinion being The Verdict starring Paul Newman). This Robert Redford offering does not disappoint. The acting is good, the direction is perfect and it's based on a true story.

Poor old Aiken (McAvoy) has everything pitted against him as an inexperienced lawyer trying to defend a woman who will do everything to protect her guilty son even if it means her own demise. A military court heavily weighted behind the prosecution challenges Aiken's resolve and commitment to the US constitution and the right of habeas corpus.

As a period drama it looks authentic and covers the fascinating events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I suppose the lone lawyer working against the odds in an 'impossible to win court case' has been done many times before, but the historical background and McAvoy's brilliant portrayal of an earnest man makes it a very worthwhile viewing experience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad Times, 8 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
This is an excellent movie that was interesting from start to finish. It highlighted a dark, disturbing historical event of which I knew very little.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At Long Last a film about the Surratt Trial, 4 Nov 2011
By 
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
There have been several books written about the life and trial of Mrs Surratt such as 'The Judicial Murder of Mrs Surratt', so I was delighted to find that at last a film has been made about her. The film is quite accurate and clearly shows how the powers that be wanted vengeance and not justice for the death of President Lincoln. Unfortunately the film just gives a potted version of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth's escape and capture. I appreciate that the film centred around Mrs Surratt but feel that a little more could have been said for example about Dr Mudd who treated Booth's broken leg, after all he only escaped the death penalty by one vote in this military trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment and in fact until recently the Mudd family were still trying to clear his name. If you are interested in the life Dr Mudd a book I would recommend is 'His Name is Still Mudd'. 1861-65 was a sad and terrible time for the United States with atrocities on both sides but the Surratt trial is one of America's darkest hours.
Well done Mr Redford for helping to bring this difficult and thorny subject to the silver screen!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving and engaging piece of film making, 22 Sep 2012
By 
Mr. P. Datta "Pritthijit" (Stockton on Tees, Teesside) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
The Conspirator is based on a true story. It unfolds the events leading to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The film covers an important chapter of American history. Robert Redford is an accomplished actor and an excellent director. "The Conspirator" is a powerful, gripping and engaging piece of film making. James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Tom Wilkes portrayal of the characters in Post-Civil war are credible and recreate the scenes achieving a profound impact. The emotions of the characters are strongly felt.

The title of "The Conspirator" significance becomes clear in the film. It is about seven men and one woman being arrested and charged on the conspiracy of murdering President Lincoln, Vice President and Secretary of State. The motives for overthrowing the government can be connected to the American civil war. The civil war ended, as the Unions won the war, but did not prevent a backlash from rebels who continued to plan attacks. The opposition sides were known as Confederate states. This was an alliance between several Southern states, which were never recognised as an Independent state during the time. I am adding some historical insight behind the film background, as it will help to familiarise with the contents. Wilki is a good source to learn further about civil war, as it looks at root causes of the war in detail.The film specific focus is the aftermath of the attacks in arresting the key suspects and the court procedures.

Majority of the scenes of the film are based in a court room setting. It is truly amazing how the events have been recreated through a courtroom setting. It is about a defendant, Mary Surrat who owned a boarding house and secret meetings took place between the conspirators. The defendant was a Southerner and a Confederate supporter. The key questions raised here: Did Mary know about what was happening in the meetings? Was she involved in the conspiracy? Was there a miscarriage of justice? Union hero and newly appointed Frederick Aiken fought for justice to prove her innocence. The film focuses on witnesses being questioned by the prosecution and defense. There are high levels of court-room drama building up to the trial. It paints a historical picture of how the US juridical system worked and highlight important legal issues. There are pivotal moments highlighted in the film.

Overall, "The Conspirator" is a well researched and executed piece of historical film making. I was really absorbed, as it kept me interested and to learn more about the historical event. There is so much emotions and drama building up. It is beautifully directed and acted. It recaptures the events with authenticity and accurately. It deserves strong praise for quality film making and acting of the highest calibre. I would certainly recommend the film to anyone who is fascinated and expresses an interest in history. It is classed as a periodic film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the conspirator, 8 Jan 2012
By 
D. E. Stevens - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
I ordered this dvd because I am interested in history and only knowing the basic details of the death of Abraham Lincoln I thought it would be interesting to learn more. I thought this dvd was excellent. It bought the time and details of the shooting to light. One of my best buys.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars conspiracy?, 5 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
Saw this film 2011, loved it, went straight home looked up facts on google, and promised myself the dvd once it was available.
It is moving and historical and I would recommend it to anyone who loves history and detail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politically loaded, 30 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
It's no surprise that this is directed by Robert Redford. Not only for its sparse, cool feel, but also because of its political content. Although it's based on a true story from just after the American Civil War, it clearly points to some of the actions taken by the US in the post 9/11 era. It's all beautifully done, with the powerful performances you'd expect from actors of the calibre of Robin Wright and James McEvoy. Read the 'epilogue' at the end that tells you what happened to all the characters. You will surely have a wry smile when you see what the main character went on to do with his life.
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The Conspirator [DVD]
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