The Conspirator is the eighth picture directed by Robert Redford. His 1980 directorial debut, Ordinary People garnered Academy Awards for best film and best director, surpassing David Lynch (The Elephant Man), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), and Roman Polanski (Tess).
Since then, Redford has chosen a slow pace, sometimes having gaps of many years between projects, which suggests careful selection and patience. The Conspirator tells the story of Mary Surratt, the only woman on trial for her involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The film opens briskly with the assassination and the hunt for the infamous John Wilkes Booth but slogs through the trial of Booth's accomplices, mainly Surratt.
James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Tom Wilkinson bring their considerable talent to the film but are unable to work the screenplay into anything interesting or powerful. Perhaps two hours is simply not enough time to illustrate an event as significant and consequential as Lincoln's assassination. The HBO mini-series John Adams covered the founding father and the first 50 years of this nation in eight hours, and still seemed rushed. The surprise casting of Justin Long (known for his embodiment of the Mac computer) as a Civil War veteran (?!) didn't help matters.