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The Conspirator

A movie directed by Robert Redford

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A Courtroom/Costume Drama with Some Great Philosophical Questions

  • May 17, 2011
The Conspirator is an historical drama that transcends its historical setting to surface some very basic ethical questions.  But at the same time, it is a well-made and interesting depiction of the events surrounding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  I have read a number of books on the subject over the years, so I was pleased to see the events portrayed with such detail and accuracy.  From an historical perspective, it does a great job of depicting the political and social situation at the end of the war, the larger conspiracy, and the associated trial.

Despite an excellent dramatization of the assassination and its aftermath, the thing that I enjoyed most about this film was not the story itself, but the philosophical issues that are at the heart of the drama.  The trial of Mary Surratt as a conspirator in the assassination exposes the tensions between a utilitarian ethical system and a deontological ethical system.  In utilitarian ethics, the end justifies the means and that which produces the greater good is preferred over that which produces the lesser good.  In deontological ethics, one is duty bound to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.

From the available evidence, it appears that Mary Surratt did nothing more than rent rooms to the conspirators without abetting their plans to murder.  It also appears from the historical record that Ms. Surratt did not get a fair trial.  But the film reveals the opinion of some that the unfair trial and execution are justified because of its healing and unifying effects on a nation torn by the civil war and the subsequent political turmoil.  Others are shown to believe the she deserves a fair trial and just treatment in spite of any negative consequences that might have on the national consciousness.

Was it acceptable, even justified, for one to die for the good of the many in such a case?  This, I believe, is the film's central question.  It is a question that transcends the time and circumstances of the film and causes us to ask ourselves what principles rule our thinking when making ethical decisions.  How would we have responded in such circumstances?  And how do we respond when faced with dissimilar ethical dilemmas in our own lives?  When a film causes me to look beyond the story and look within, I find the experience far more satisfying than merely being entertained for a couple of hours.  As I ponder the questions, I am enriched beyond the time spent in the theater and the investment of time and money is much more valuable.  The Conspirator is one of those movies that provides this more lasting benefit.

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May 17, 2011
+5!!!! Can't wait to see this. Thanks for the great review, David.
May 17, 2011
You're welcome! I think you will like it.
May 17, 2011
excellent review and I really enjoyed your observations. My review was a little too mechanical I think, whereas yours provided some personal observations that I couldn't really add into mine. Loved those bits about its philosophy! Thanks for sharing this review!!
May 17, 2011
Thanks, William. Your review was great. It convinced me to go see the film and I am really glad I did.
More The Conspirator reviews
review by . April 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
During Wartime, Is It Right To Be Found Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
One of the darkest moments in American history would have to be the assassination of Pres. Abraham Lincoln. Even when I was a child, the event was taught to me as a part of grade-school history and often discussed by my father since he was a judge. It was such a tragic event that invoked the fury of a nation and affected many who had lived during that era. Robert Redford’s films have always managed tightly-woven tales of intrigue and suspense that depended on very meticulous storytelling, …
review by . September 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
When I went to see this movie I knew nothing about it. The trailer merely indicated a period courtroom drama starring James McAvoy.     While I would hesitate to call it one of the best movies of the year, undoubtedly this movie or more precisely the story this movie relates impacted me more deeply than most do. So much so that I have bought several books on the subject to get as full an understanding of this event as possible.     As an experienced director …
review by . April 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Robert Redford’s The Conspirator is in part the story of Mary Surratt, who in 1865 was tried and convicted in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. She ultimately became the first woman to be executed by the United States federal government. Although she owned the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and several other people – including her son, also named John – were accused of hatching a scheme to first kidnap then murder …
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David P. Nesbitt ()
Ranked #58
Soul: The first thing to know about me is that my worldview is decidedly Christian. Therefore, my chief end in life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. My content on this site and my life in general … more
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About this movie



Director: Robert Redford
Genre: Drama
Release Date: 15 April 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: James D. Solomon
Runtime: 123 min
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