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lament or rejoice? you decide ~

where to begin?

i have decided to spare you all what could otherwise be the longest film-related blogpost in the history of movie reviewing by restraining myself to nine points on three levels of assessment regarding Robert Redford's The Conspirator (which opened today, and for which i left work early to view). 

so this is what i have to say for now:

The Good
  • honest performances by Robin Wright and Tom Wilkinson. Wright especially didn't embarrass herself despite one or two totally overwrought and absurd moments.
  • some attention to some detail some of the time (at least the gallows were well built).
  • what appears to be an attempt by the screenwriter, et al., to capture, at minimum, the spirit of what's at the heart of any serious study of the conspiracy trial. this is worth something, at least.
The Bad
  • pretty bad performances by everyone aside from Wright and Wilkinson, particularly McAvoy. and even Kevin Kline! wow.
  • a terrible failure to depict filthy malarial Washington DC in 1865 with any degree of accuracy, including very hit-and-miss costuming (why is Aiken dressed as a soldier when he's not one? why aren't the Catholic priests wearing Roman collars? is that a windsor knot in his tie?), some weird casting choices (i love me some Colm Meany, but did they even bother trying to make him look like David Hunter? etc. etc. etc.), and an almost complete disregard for the weather/season/etc. (where's the rain and the heat and the sludge, people? why is everything so clean? nobody smokes in this movie. um, no). i will say : some of this looked so low budget, however, that i am willing to make concessions, which is why this is listed under "bad" instead of "ugly".
  • no inclusion of Paine's gallows testament that Mrs. Surratt was innocent? or the public's sentiment about her execution? really? very odd choices.
The Terribly Ugly
  • perpetuating idiotic myths about Mary Surratt in chains and handcuffs and being treated so awful. shame on everyone involved in the production. and shame on them giving Anna's thank you to Aiken out of her brother's mouth. grrrrrrr. this one really gets me.
  • Aiken: Union do-goody hero. oh dear.
  • last minute reprieve due to Aiken's do-goody heroism??? no, not really: off to the gallows she goes! oh please!  what's even worse is that the way this is depicted in the film robs the truth of the events of their actual drama. why why why rewrite something that was actually pretty dang dramatic (i.e. Anna Surratt begging at Johnson's door, Hancock dashing to the courthouse after Judge Wiley, etc.). oh fer shame.
and now i promised i would stop. there's so much wrong with this movie, it is perhaps not worth getting too wound up about. however dreadful it is, i think its heart was in the right time-zone, at least, and it's leaps and bounds above the dreadful efforts of the past (The Trial of Dr. Mudd and other such abominations).

i want people to see this film because it can generate interest and conversation about important stuff people ought to think about (both past and present). but i know people who do see it will wander away with some of the same confusions and misinformation that has been proliferated for the past 150 (nearly) years. boo on that.

but in many ways, perhaps i ought to be grateful.  the truth remains untold. still. which leaves me a chance yet to tell it.

: D


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
Hm! I was looking for a movie to go see, as I haven't been to the theater in ages now. Maybe I ought to go see this one? I didn't even know it was coming out, I'm so behind on what's going on in the movie world. It's so frustrating when they just can't get it right, though.
Apr. 16th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
yeah ~ given all the available information and figuring that the audience who would want to see this would appreciate something like accuracy, i am baffled by many of the lame hollywood choices that were made here.

but, like i said above, it's good conversation-starter material. people who don't know much about the events would probably find it an interesting and decently cobbled film. possibly. hard to say.
Apr. 16th, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
last minute reprieve due to Aiken's do-goody heroism???

I normally don't resort to using memes, but...

Apr. 16th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
you might blow a gasket if you go see this ~ there's really some mind-blowing fuckery throughout.

i practiced deep-breathing and tried to appreciate it on some other meta-level rather than assessing all the 10,000 details that are just patently wrong.

: o p
Apr. 18th, 2011 03:03 am (UTC)
I ended up going to see it today... Morbid curiosity, you know how it is. ;)

I enjoyed some aspects of it, but more in a superficial manner, I guess? I tried to not let stuff annoy me too badly, didn't want to waste my $9.00.

A lot of the casting bothered me as well, with both looks and acting. The actor who played JWB reminded me more of Borat than the real JWB. Lewis Powell was rather unattractive. John Surratt looked way too young and innocent. Among other things, of course.

I didn't know much about him before, but I just Googled Robert Redford... And now I feel like Stanton was trying to serve as a nineteenth century Donald Rumsfeld for him. I'm all for people being politically active, but I don't want it to appear too strongly in my historical movies. -Sigh.-
Apr. 18th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
yeah, the choice for Booth was kinda weird, i thought. doesn't seem like filmmakers "get it" that trying to match Booth's look isn't going to get them anywhere ~ they need someone who can pull off his charisma.

i actually thought the casting for Powell was pretty okay (and the hat was dead on, though it was stupid that they made him wear to the gallows). John Surratt was too cherubic, i agree ~ and even the character was treated kinda like a child. Surratt was so much more savvy and conniving that that.

as for Rumsfeld, I read somewhere Redford saying he wanted to present a balanced story blah blah blah. this was anything but, i thought. and Stanton had no nuance at all, which was a real shame. as much as i think he was an evil pig, i think some context here was warranted and ignored.

sigh indeed. somebody's going to get it right some day. that continues to be my hope.

: o p
Apr. 16th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
last minute reprieve

Does that mean what I think it means???

(I haven't seen it yet. How'd they do on Wiechmann?)
Apr. 16th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
just some absurd 11th hour hollywoodizing of the writ of habeas corpus. which of course gets rescinded by johnson after everyone is congratulating each other. no really ~ in the jail they are all laughing and crying and then Hartranft walks in and delivers the bad news. just sort of randomly, like that. ughhhhh.

ahhhh Looey. he's cast okay (pretty face, daft expression), but not much is made of him ~ so that's another disappointment. where he could have contributed richly to the drama of Mary Surratt's case, they just sort of tack him on as a way of implicating John. nothing terribly exciting here. boo-yawn.

: o p
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
I'm just so excited he got in ANY FILM EVER AT ALL. He always gets left out....haha.....uhm, yeah.

Look, historians are talking! Except not really.

Thanks for the review, it makes me feel more prepped going in! If I had done more work on the trial / ever read much of anything on Aiken, I think it would be more scarring. When they're ready to make another movie set before the assassination I'll be all guns ready :). That said, the Mary Surratt victim monologue is getting boring.
Apr. 20th, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
yeah, it doesn't help that aiken was a married man and they portray him as sorta engaged to some drama-queen debutante, and that they say he became the editor of the Post after leaving the law profession (which he did ~ but then promptly died). so yeah, just brace yourself and try to find the small things to enjoy.

and it's definitely good that the film is generating dialogue that will discuss the facts.

: D

Apr. 17th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
NOBODY SMOKES??? Oh hell no. unconscionable and inexcusable.

Thanks for your comments. I agree re: "but i know people who do see it will wander away with some of the same confusions and misinformation that has been proliferated for the past 150 (nearly) years."
Apr. 17th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
yeah ~ there's this bizarre scene where Aiken goes to drown his sorrows in a bar and not a cigar in the joint (nor in the Kirkwood Hotel, nor in the "club" where everyone is hanging out. no smoke, no grease, no mud, no trash or offal in the streets, and everyone has perfectly pressed trousers.

Apr. 18th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
I've got to do a better job of keeping up with your journals/blogs, here and elsewhere! I really miss reading them. I'm almost never on LJ anymore...instead have been sucked into the timesuck of Facebook, and trying to establish and maintain a blog on Blogspot (an interface I really like, although it is less social than here...but maybe that's one of the things I like about it.) Anyway, I'm getting ready to put a 'redirect' message on jecn_stories, but you can find me at http://myblankblogjennes.blogspot.com/ or as Jennifer Chandler Nesbitt on Facebook if you are interested in either. I hope everything is going well!! I must catch up! But for now I will read your movie review.... :)
Apr. 20th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
Re: HI!
hello! it's lovely to see you ~ ! alas, i do not do facebook, but i will definitely bookmark your blog and stop by to check in (i've missed your genealogy stories and all your lovely pictures!).

super-glad to know you are still knocking around the web!

: D
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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