As I was hinting on Monday, I indeed managed to watch The Conspirator. It took me two days, ‘cos I was so tired I fell asleep halfway through on the first attempt. Well, stranger things have happened and I really don’t blame it on the movie, but rather running short on sleep and working 7 days a week at the moment. Makes me feel slightly beside myself. Anyway, on to the matter at hand. Admittedly my knowledge of the American civil war is somewhat limited – when The North and the South aired on TV I was too young too care and I never have picked up any real interest on it since and I couldn’t tell you much about it. So watching a movie depicting some of the events in the final months of that particular event was more than a refresher, in fact it felt more like learning something new ‘cos what little we learned in school about this I had mostly forgotten.
Since the film is following historical events pretty accurately, I’ll spare you a recap. Of course it’s taking liberties at filling in pieces where no account of events is avialable or things are open to interpretation and using these gaps for its artistic purposes. It does so quite restrained without inventing too much and yet the movie is already a 2 hour piece which normally should be good. However, here this never seems enough. The material is infinitely complex once you get a lick and even after watching the movie, you feel as unknowing as before, especially if you are not a history buff. There is no explanation of the actual background of the war, the motivations of the conspirators, other political events. It leaves you with an empty look on your face thinking that perhaps you really should watch that TV series from the 80’s one of these days. On the other hand those 2 hours wil lbe infinitely long in a cinema. Because the film follows events so slavishly and predictably, it is simply boring. This isn’t helped by the overall rather dreary looks. I at least really hated the dark brown and golden grading, which is very difficult on the eyes and makes things even more stressfull to watch. I understand the reasoning behind it as explained in the extra features of the DVD, but why go crazy on historical accuracy for the set design and costumes, when you barely will see anything? It seems unnecessary to make everything look like gilded photos from that time. The other big problem of the movie can simply be tied to a name – James McAvoy. You simply can’t bond with him on any level. He’s not even coming close to depicting the tormented soul he is supposed to be and his babyface doesn’t help. Pretty much all the supporting characters have much more depth.
The one saving virtue of the piece is its depiction of all the politics surrounding the assasination of Lincoln and how the military and some senators very much took over the show – for a while, anyway. To be fair, though, the rationale behind it is at least plausible, if not 100% watertight with respect to the spirit of the Bill of Rights or human rights on a more general level. I guess it’s open to interpretation and the movie only answers it one way. This, combined with the other issues make this a rather lukewarm experience. It might be okay if you watched a few other things first and can build on a broader basis, but by itself, the film just doesn’t work too well. It leaves you hanging in mid-air and makes for an unsatisfying, if not frustrating, experience.