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The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )

Film:


Extras:


Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )

86






Studio and Year: Lionsgate - 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 122 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Resolution: 1080p/24


Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Huston, Colm Meany, Justin Long, Stephen Root
Directed by: Robert Redford
Music by: Mark Isham
Written by: James Solomon
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: August 16, 2011







"Defend one of the eight"



Film Synopsis:


In the wake of the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, a country mourns its leader, and eight people are charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice President and Secretary of State. The lone woman accused, Mary Surratt (Wright), owns the boarding house where the attack was planned. Faced with a certain death, Surratt’s only hope comes in the form of a newly minted lawyer and Union war hero, Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), who reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. As the courtroom trial unfolds, Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her son John Surratt.



My Take:


I generally gravitate toward films that are based upon real people or historic events and jumped at the opportunity to review The Conspirator. I had seen the trailer for it on another title I was reviewing from Lionsgate and was immediately drawn in the by the film’s subject, cast and director. This is the debut release for The American Film Company whose tagline of “Witness History” heralds their distinction for making films based upon true stories from America’s past. It has been 146 years since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the events surrounding it still resonate deeply. I must admit that I didn’t know the complete story behind the conspiracy. John Wilkes Booth is the name primarily associated with it although I knew of several of the others he conjoined with. I wasn’t aware of Mary Surratt, Frederick Aiken or the events surrounding the trial and what transpired as a result. This is a rewarding dramatic film that presents a fairly detailed accounting of the trial of Mary Surratt while recounting the tragedy of Lincoln’s murder, the pursuit/capture of those held responsible and an inside perspective on the reluctant young lawyer who is tasked with Mary’s defense. Director Robert Redford clearly has a passion for these historically significant events and goes to great lengths to authentically represent the period, the players and the quintessence of the ire that embodied the nation after the assassination of the President. Amid the historic overlay is a story about two people who suddenly find themselves thrown together and faced with an insurmountable situation that is sure to have only one outcome.

Watching the documentary on the plot to kill President Lincoln as well as listening to the perspectives offered by the historians etc. included in this release it is evident that there are lingering questions about Mary Surratt’s innocence and/or guilt as well as the level of her involvement in the conspiracy. The film depicts her as a sympathetic character and probably justly so in that whatever role she played probably didn’t warrant her sentence. It was interesting to see Frederick Aiken’s transformation as he became more involved in her defense. The obstacles he faced were assuredly overwhelming both in and out of the courtroom. James McAvoy is a talented young actor and this is surely among his finest performances. He isn’t alone though. Robin Wright is magnificent as the heavily burdened and ostracized Mary Surratt while Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, Rachel Evan Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Colm Meany, and Stephen Root are equally strong in support. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln occurred during one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. The act itself left an indelible mark that will probably never fade. I enjoyed this affecting and historically significant film that provides insightful commentary and engaging drama in its depiction of the events surrounding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln while specifically examining the potential allegiances and loyalties of a woman charged as a principle participant in one of the most heinous crimes in our nations past.



Parental Guide:


The rating is for thematic material and some violent content





AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**


(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


Audio: 86


  • Dynamics:

  • Low frequency extension:

  • Surround Sound presentation:

  • Clarity/Detail:

  • Dialogue Reproduction:





Video: 86


(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity:

  • Black level/Shadow detail:

  • Color reproduction:

  • Fleshtones:

  • Compression:

The Conspirator comes to Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate featuring 1080p VC-1 encoded video that has an average bitrate of 16 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 1.7 Mbps.

This film utilizes a stylized visual design that is meant to create a period specific aesthetic to support its thematic elements. The predominating palette is limited to what appears very nearly to be black and white mixed with a little color which results in a sort of muted sepia. According secondary colors such as brown and blue are muted while grays and whites appear delineated. Looking at films from a “colorless” perspective is something that can take a little getting used. It isn’t an issue for me which allowed me to appreciate this nuanced presentation. Blacks are fairly deep, with appreciable gradations and dynamic highlights that surface when onscreen with mixed light/dark content. This is a predominantly dark film that contains many sequences shot in low lit environs and natural lighting. While there is some loss of visibility in dark backgrounds contrast and brightness levels aren’t overdriven and work in tandem to preserve detail in dark and light elements onscreen. The applied filtering and cinematography have an effect on perceived resolution however images onscreen appear lucid and sharp. Close ups reveal lots of fine detail in the faces, hair and clothing worn by the cast members. Some have expressive faces that reveal every crack, furrowed brow and wrinkle. Long range shots aren’t resolved quite as well but appear dimensionally satisfying. A light veil of grain imparts a film like texture that is never intrusive. This is an excellent high definition presentation that is revealing of the high production elements used in the film.

This is primarily a dialogue driven film however there are elements in the film that require use of the entire system so its ability to clearly render them is essential. Dialogue is reproduced with transparent realism and lucid texture as it is appropriately balanced within the front soundstage. The surround mix utilizes the entire platform to recreate the many acoustic sounds associated with the environments portrayed onscreen. The rear channels contain a mixture of spatial ambience/musical extension as well as directional panning cues that effectively support the front soundstage. This is an enriching audio presentation that mates well with the source material.



Bonus Features:

  • Bonusview commentary with director Robert Redford

  • Audio commentary with director Robert Redford

  • (HD) The Conspirator: The plot to kill Lincoln – 66 minute documentary

  • (HD) The making of The Conspirator – 10 minute featurette

  • (HD) The American Film Company – 1 minute promo

  • (HD) Witness history (10 segments totaling 40 minutes)

    1. Witness history introduction
    2. The conspiracy
    3. Production design
    4. Mary Surratt’s Catholicism
    5. Costume design
    6. Military trial
    7. Props & special effects
    8. Frederick Aiken – defense lawyer
    9. Mary Surratt: guilty or innocent
    10. Sentence & execution
  • (HD) Photo gallery

  • (HD) Theatrical trailer

  • (HD) 2 TV Spots





Final Thoughts:


The Conspirator is a historically significant and lofty film that provides insightful commentary and engaging drama in its depiction of the events surrounding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln while specifically examining the potential allegiances and loyalties of a woman charged as a principle participant in one of the most heinous crimes in our nations past. It’s a rewarding dramatic film that benefits from an excellent cast, high quality production and Robert Redford’s focused direction. It comes to Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate in a well rounded offering that features excellent high definition audio/video quality and worthwhile bonus supplements that provide a look at the production as well as the true events/people that inspired the film. It’s recommended viewing but I would suggest a rental versus a blind buy. Enjoy!















Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews





Reference Review System:



JVC DLA-RS50 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector

Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen

Anthem AVM50v THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor

Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier

Oppo BDP-93 Universal Disc/3D capable Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Panasonic DMP-BDT310 3D capable Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule HD Universal Remote Control

Canton "Ergo" Series speakers

Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers

SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)

APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector

Furman SPR-20i Stable Power Regulator

Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Better Cables, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling

Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package
 

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Spot on as always .. film is a definite worthwhile rental .. although expect acting and dialog .. well done and I look forward to more by The American Film Company ..


Thanks Ralph .. good job
 

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Ralph,


Thanks for another great review. I enjoy American History, especially the dark days of the civil war. That said; I am going to take a leap and buy this one..!
 

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The story is extremely relevant to recent history and the loss of constitutional rights for those deemed "enemies of the state".


That said, I found this film lacking in the sense that the narrative is not very smooth. Lots of unanswered questions about who did what, which makes the story about the loss of constitutional rights the main purpose of the flick. Anyone looking for a who-dunnit will be disappointed.


I give it slightly better marks for PQ and AQ than Ralph does. The fireworks in the early part of the film have particularly stunning audio.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by rdgrimes /forum/post/20841903


The story is extremely relevant to recent history and the loss of constitutional rights for those deemed "enemies of the state".


That said, I found this film lacking in the sense that the narrative is not very smooth. Lots of unanswered questions about who did what, which makes the story about the loss of constitutional rights the main purpose of the flick. Anyone looking for a who-dunnit will be disappointed.

Greetings,


I would expect that most viewers would not be expecting a whodunnit going into a film like this. The unanswered questions are relevant within the context of the story as there are still looming questions regarding aspects of these events.


Regards,
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Potts /forum/post/20842253


Greetings,


I would expect that most viewers would not be expecting a whodunnit going into a film like this. The unanswered questions are relevant within the context of the story as there are still looming questions regarding aspects of these events.


Regards,

I think what I meant was that people expecting to learn what really took place might be disappointed. I just think the screenplay could have been written a lot better so the viewer could avoid the expectation that there would be answers. There's just something missing in the way the story is told in the film. They seem to be going both directions at once then just abandon one direction. May be an editing problem.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by rdgrimes /forum/post/20842361


I think what I meant was that people expecting to learn what really took place might be disappointed. I just think the screenplay could have been written a lot better so the viewer could avoid the expectation that there would be answers. There's just something missing in the way the story is told in the film. They seem to be going both directions at once then just abandon one direction. May be an editing problem.

I don't know if it's possible to know everything that went on .. part of the allure of this film for me were the unanswered questions .. yet I came away from it in sympathy for Mary Surratt .. which was obviously the way Redford intended it .. IMO ..
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by rdgrimes /forum/post/20842361


I think what I meant was that people expecting to learn what really took place might be disappointed. I just think the screenplay could have been written a lot better so the viewer could avoid the expectation that there would be answers. There's just something missing in the way the story is told in the film. They seem to be going both directions at once then just abandon one direction. May be an editing problem.

Greetings,


Gotcha. I believe that this is intentional in that at a certain point there was no option other than to go in a singular direction because that is essentially the way things shifted at the time. I agree that a more definitive perspective would prove more dramatically satisfying however I can see the reason for the contradictory nature in the portrayal.


Regards,
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Potts /forum/post/20842970


Greetings,


Gotcha. I believe that this is intentional in that at a certain point there was no option other than to go in a singular direction because that is essentially the way things shifted at the time. I agree that a more definitive perspective would prove more dramatically satisfying however I can see the reason for the contradictory nature in the portrayal.


Regards,

No argument here, but I really feel that the story telling was off the mark in some way. It's really NOT a story about the conspiracy to assassinate the 3 top leaders of the country, but yet there was an attempt to tell that story too (which failed). I actually got more engaged when the "plot plot" went away and they just focused on the hypocrisy in the government. So like I said, maybe it's an editing problem. But there was a lot more drama and story that could have been told that had little to do with the assassination plot. And that story suffered as a result of the inclusion of the plot plot.


Telling 2 stories at once CAN be done well, it just wasn't done well here.
 

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Quote:
The applied filtering and cinematography have an effect on perceived resolution however images onscreen appear lucid and sharp

I enjoyed this film but my rental copy was a soft, blurry mess almost as bad as the first Gladiator release! I thought I was watching a lowgrade `HD' upconverted movie with all th issues.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) Spoiler  
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show) The end definately reminded me of the end of the 'Murder of Mary Fagin' tv miniseries:euphoria followed by sudden heartbreak and grief
 

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I agree with everything Ralph said about the video quality, however I would also like to add that in addition to the muted colors there is also a significant amount of stylized light blooms which I thought were a bit overdone to the point of distraction. Overall, I was in disagreement with the video style of the film. I would have enjoyed it more if they had used a more realistic look and saved the stylization for a few poignant moments.


I did learn a lot about the events depicted, and am very glad I watched the movie.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by [KYA]Mega /forum/post/20859431


I agree with everything Ralph said about the video quality, however I would also like to add that in addition to the muted colors there is also a significant amount of stylized light blooms which I thought were a bit overdone to the point of distraction. Overall, I was in disagreement with the video style of the film. I would have enjoyed it more if they had used a more realistic look and saved the stylization for a few poignant moments.


I did learn a lot about the events depicted, and am very glad I watched the movie.

+1. I found the video all over the place with blown out whites, grain and a few scenes where focus was an issue. Stylized for sure and like Ralph had mentioned, it was pretty muted. I did not like this video at all. I liked Macavoy's performance. Good review.
 
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