x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Movie review: The Conspirator

Starring Robin Wright and James McAvoy, this film has a competent story but lacks tension.

Robin Wright and James McAvoy in The Conspirator. SMPSP
Robin Wright and James McAvoy in The Conspirator. SMPSP

Director: Robert Redford

Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Tom Wilkinson

One of Redford's finest hours was playing the journalist Bob Woodward in All the President's Men, about presidential malpractice and the Watergate scandal.

His eighth directorial effort sees him visit another scandal done in the name of the president, this time one a lot less well known: the trial of Mary Suratt (Wright), accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

The action takes place mainly in a kangaroo court set up after a horrific act of terror against an American institution, and as such there is some resonance with the treatment of suspected terrorists post September 11.

Given the pedigree of the cast, including Wilkinson playing Aiken's superior and Danny Huston the lawyer for the prosecution, it's such a shame that The Conspirator is, for the most part, a run-of-the-mill courtroom drama of the type that Hollywood loves, about the need for everyone to be given a fair trial no matter how guilty they at first seem.

All the clichés of courtroom drama are trotted out, including a young lawyer realising the system has fatal flaws, corrupt witnesses, dastardly lawyers, and a defendant who is probably innocent.

All this makes for a competent story and narrative arc and the production design is lush, but it's undermined by the distinct lack of tension.