Not long ago, I discovered that The Conspirator was available on Amazon Instant Video. Huzzah, I thought. I had the house to myself and I figured it was the perfect time to enjoy a Civil War era film.
I made it through twenty minutes and turned it off.
Keep in mind, I have never walked out on or turned off any Civil War film. Ever. And I have sat through Gods and Generals TWICE. Clearly I am committed to Hollywood’s take on this epic historical event. But I just could not stomach this wretched piece of rubbish.
If the first twenty minutes were any indication of things to come in the rest of the film, then I suppose I would have been treated to more over-wrought testaments to “American” jurisprudence – the right to a trial by one’s peers and the notion of innocence before guilt can be established without any element of doubt. Thanks for the elementary lesson in law.
But wait, there are more lessons to be learned here. Yes – Mary Surratt was indeed a woman. Her implication in the murder of Abraham Lincoln and her subsequent execution were shocking to be sure. Thanks for the elementary lesson in nineteenth-century gender assumptions.
The problem, at least in the first few scenes that I could watch, is that both of these issues are of great significance – then and now – but they were glossed over in a tisk-tisk fashion only after dripping a taste of sickening “look-at-how-we’ve-progressed-but-there’s-still-work-to-be-done” syrup on for good measure. And even this was done so in a mumbly dead-pan stumble fest. Such nonsense can only refelct some of the worst writing, the worst acting, the worst directing, or a combination of the three. I would have been more riveted watching a plate of white toast get stale as time slowly, painfully passed.
Not that the film was completely lacking in merits. I got a bit of a chuckle at the actor who played John Wilkes Booth. With all the southern-Gothic charm of a junior high production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, his brutish pronunciation of the Virginia state motto in the Ford’s Theatre scene – sic semper tyrannis – was delightful. I suppose this was merely an effort to “southernize” or if you like, “Rebelize” the president’s assassin (who was not a redneck but a classically trained actor), by giving him a slightly raspier Jethro Bodine-esque accent. Such clumsy and obvious efforts make me laugh.
But who knows? Maybe the utter brilliance of rest of the film made up for the first twenty minutes. I will never know. Perhaps it got slightly less patronizingly preachy. Maybe there was a musical number. Maybe robots. If anyone has seen the whole thing, chime in.