By Jonathan Decker
Director Robert Redford's The Conspirator is a soul-stirring, troubling, and thought-provoking examination of the sacred and true nature of the Constitution. It's also a warning against allowing fear to cause us to abandon our freedom in pursuit of revenge and security. This is a film that went largely overlooked this year, which is a shame, because it's a well-written, well-acted historical drama with plenty of modern parallels. The film's many artistic, intellectual, and moral virtues make up for occasional times when it's a bit too slowly paced and heavy-handed with its messages. When it's gripping, it's terrifically so. The Conspirator tells of a young Union attorney who defends a Southern mother charged with aided and abetting those who murdered Lincoln; his disdain for the woman turns to compassion and outrage as Constitutional rights are trampled on by a prosecution intent on blind vengeance.
Redford has a keen eye for finding the universal human reality of times and events long ago, so it's easy for audiences to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. The cast, a skilled ensemble led by finely nuanced performances by James McAvoy (X-Men First Class, Becoming Jane, Chronicles of Narnia) and Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, Unbreakable), is excellent. The cinematography is pristine without drawing too much attention to itself. The musical score is merely adequate, but this is hardly a deal-breaker. Fans of patriotic history and current events, as well as quality drama, will find much to enjoy here.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Conspirator is rated PG-13. In its opening minutes it portrays the Lincoln assassination and the attempted assassination of the Secretary of State, the former by shooting and the latter by stabbing. Both are bloodless but intense moments. There is some moderate language early on, in response to the horrific events. Criminals are placed in hoods and executed by hanging. There is no sexuality or nudity.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: The United States Constitution is an inspired document. Real character comes from doing what is right, in spite of opposition and great personal cost. Lust for revenge can cloud the pursuit of true justice.
For another patriotic classic about right-vs-wrong in America, check out Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.