Slavish attention to detail bogs down ambitious historical drama
Published: April 14, 2011
The Conspirator flows from Civil War battlefield to frenetic assassination night, to tensely detailed courtroom drama to gallows. The behind-the-scenes research is obvious, and likely will blow many history buffs’ neurons out of excitement, so complete is the 1860s experience.
But for all its strengths – its performances, its historical detail, with Savannah a convincing stand-in for Washington – The Conspirator feels trapped in the rarefied air of period correctness. The adherence to detail that animates the production can also mislead: The Conspirator is not exactly historical record but educated guesses and dramatizations drawn from the record.
Unlike so many historical melodramas that mythologize its subjects and play fast and loose with the facts, The Conspirator goes about its distortions honestly.
The movie invariably parallels our own age: Fort McNair on the Anacostia no longer imprisons enemies of state; we have that compound on Cuba’s coast. The Constitution can be bent in our time, as it was then.
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