The Conspirator leaps to the top of the pile with several good notices coming out of Toronto. This is the Toronto experience most filmmakers hope will happen: low on the buzz meter going in, a happy surprise going out. While it isn’t exactly the geekgasm that happened after Up in the Air hit the fest circuit last year, or 127 Hours this year, it is good enough. And it’s Robert Redford doing what he does best.
Here is Kirk Honeycutt from the Hollywood Reporter:
The American Film Co., which seeks to make movies drawn from American history, hits a jackpot of sorts with its first film. The producers came up with a real who-knew? — one of those stories that freshman history never uncovered — and they landed Robert Redford to direct a starry cast. Even so, once the dry dust of history gets whisked away, “The Conspirator” feels like a television movie. Perhaps because a large part of the story — centering on the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln — takes place in a courtroom, there’s lots of talk and not much action.
So the film, seeking a distributor here, is very much a tough sell. It’s an admirable film, mixing history few people know with several real-life personalities well worth knowing. Unfortunately, viewers for such fare are older and less prone to line up on a first weekend. A distributor will need to roll this film out incrementally, looking for feature stories, reviews and word-of-mouth to entice history buffs and the curious into adult venues.
Redford does a good job in developing the drama and making one of the least sympathetic women in American history into something of a heroine. But the film largely rests on a character played with considerable emotional energy by James McAvoy, Union veteran and war hero Frederick Aiken, who as a new lawyer defended Mary Surratt, one of four individuals charged in the conspiracy after John Wilkes Booth was shot trying to escape arrest.
When Redford is good, he is very very good. Quiz Show was his last Oscar success, and to my mind, his best film. Ordinary People is also flawless. But Quiz Show went deeper, and didn’t necessarily depend on the actors to pull it through. Redford’s gift is working with actors, like most actors-turned-directors, but when he is just the casual observer, wonderful things can emerge. He’s made some flat-out turkeys, however, and some near-misses. When he stars in them, they tend to dip – not just because he insists upon making himself look pretty, but he is not the Redford film history remembers. And if you can’t let yourself age properly, you are never going to work as an older actor in any believable context.
I get the feeling The Conspirator is headed into Quiz Show territory. We will have to wait and see on that. But for now, it lands right at the top of my pile and I can’t wait to see it. I also think it’s a good bet for one of the ten Best Pic slots.