Review: The Conspirator Blu-ray

The Conspirator Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Robert Redford | CAST: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Danny Huston
RELEASE DATE: 8/16/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, documentary
SPECS: PG-13 | 122 min. | Biography drama | 2.35:1 aspect ratio | 5.1 DTS-HD audio | English, Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The ConspiratorThe Blu-ray version of The Conspirator is a treasure trove for history buffs interested in the murder of President Lincoln and the prosecution of those charged with the crime. But, if they’re looking for accuracy, they should watch not just the movie but also the special features.

Robert Redford’s (A River Runs Through It) film offers a decidedly grim look at the government’s actions after Lincoln’s assassination. The movie — which looks and sounds great in high-definition, but that’s no surprise for a new film — focuses on the trial of one particular so-called “conspirator,” Mary Surrat (Robin Wright, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee), whose boarding house was the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and his associates. Surrat’s son, John (Johnny Simmons, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), was one of those associates, and although he escaped prosecution, his mother was charged.

Surrat and the other conspirators were given a military trial instead of a trial by their peers, and that’s the main crux of the argument by her lawyer (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class), who also struggles with his disgust at the idea of defending someone who was partly responsible for the murder of the president. His boss, played with the usual attention by Tom Wilkinson (The Kennedys), reminds him that every accused person has the right to a fair trail before being condemned.

[SPOILER] The film strongly suggests that the prosecution was corrupt, witnesses were encouraged to lie for fear of being included in the charges and that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline, Queen to Play) would stop at nothing to have Mary Surrat hung — all of which is ironic given that it was all in response to the murder of Honest Abe.

The DVD’s supplements, however, say that, while the conspirators were tried in a military court despite not being part of the military, Surrat herself could have been guilty of at least some participation in the murder. Ultimately, though, no one knows for sure, so the question of guilt on the part of the government rests in how much the laws were bent because of anger. [END SPOILER]

The Blu-ray’s supplements are perfect companions for this film, from the hour-long documentary about Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent trails, to the dozen or so brief featurettes on the making of the film and how it compares to the real-life history.

All are produced by the American Film Company, and here’s where the Blu-ray falls down (and why it didn’t get a five out of five for our overall score): When the disc starts up, after numerous trailers that have to be chapter-forwarded, viewers must watch a trailer for the AFC and The Conspirator — and when I say “must,” I mean it: It can’t be fast-forwarded or chapter-forwarded, and you can’t select the menu until it has played. Now, I know the production company wants to make sure it gets its message across, but this is overkill. It’s bad enough for those who rent this disc and only have to watch it once, but what about the people who buy it? Every time they put in this disc, they are forced to go through the AFC message — again. So much for democracy!

All in all, the performances and production values are fine in this film, and viewers who are patient enough to go through the entire disc will come out of it knowing more about American history, both factual and assumed.


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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.