The Conspirator

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Conspirator Movie Poster Image
Historical drama tells compelling tale; some violence.
  • PG-13
  • 2011
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's ultimate message is that honor, justice, and the American Constitution should always trump political expediency. Also, no matter how challenging a task might seem, you must rise up to it and have the courage of your own convictions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Frederick is a principled man. No matter the repercussions of representing an accused criminal, he defends her anyway -- and eventually becomes passionate about securing justice for her. Other characters aren't always what they first seem; those who theoretically should be acting for the greater good don't always do so, while those who might seem to be less upstanding have surprising strength and purpose.


Lincoln's assassination is shown in a harrowing sequence that unfolds in surprising detail. Blood is shown, but the actual wounds aren't. A connected attack is quite vicious -- a man stabs another who's lying helpless in bed, knifing him several times. John Wilkes Booth is shot dead. A hanging takes place in front of a crowd; it, too, plays out with agonizing specificity (including wince-inducing soud effects). Soldiers carry and use guns; the movie's opening shows dead/wounded men on a Civil War battlefield. A young woman is threatened; rocks are thrown through her window.


A couple kisses; some flirting.


Infrequent use of words like “damned," "hell," "oh my God," and "arse," plus a couple of uses of "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking. A few characters use alcohol as "liquid courage" and take shots to fortify themselves before difficult tasks, and at one point, the main character turns to drink when all seems lost. One witness seems drunk in court. Era-accurate smoking, including during court proceedings.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Robert Redford-directed historical drama centers on the assassination of President Lincoln and its aftermath -- specifically, the real-life trial of Mary Surratt, who was accused of being part of the plot. Playing out largely as a courtroom drama, the movie uses history to explore the conflict between justice and politics and offers plenty to talk and think about. There’s some violence (including blood from fatal wounds, a vicious knife attack, and the frank depiction of a hanging), drinking, and smoking, as well as mild, period-accurate swearing ("s--t," "damned," etc.).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written bycolten97 May 12, 2011

An eye-opening film, with an exemplary ensemble cast

Robert Redford has assembled an impressively strong cast to bring to the screen a very important and poignant story. Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, I... Continue reading
Adult Written by[email protected] April 15, 2011
This movie is so good for telling us (and kids from middle school through college) about an unknown, important story within one of the most important events in... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 March 25, 2012


this film was so boring, i fell asleep into the first minute. it has no action, a pointless story, and overall pathetic
Teen, 14 years old Written byGwyneth Alice December 12, 2011

A bit dull at parts, but still enjoyable

I found myself getting bored through parts of the movie. The most interesting parts for me were the court sessions and probably the last thirty or forty-five mi... Continue reading

What's the story?

That Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is a patriot is no great mystery. A decorated Civil War hero, he was the type of man who stepped up to the proverbial plate time and again. But even he can’t escape unscathed from his next mission: Defend the sole female accused in the murder of president Abraham Lincoln, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright). She ran the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators met, but exactly how much did she know? Is she as innocent as she claims? As Surratt’s appointed defense counsel, Aiken feels he has no choice but to perform the job to the best of his duties, even if it earns him the scorn of fellow citizens still reeling from the assassination of the commander-in-chief. But ultimately Mary's case leads him to question his own prejudices, too.

Is it any good?

Although it was directed by film icon Robert Redford, THE CONSPIRATOR belongs to James McAvoy, who convincingly inhabits the role of Aiken. The war hero was given the thankless task of defending the woman charged with plotting Lincoln's assassination, and McAvoy portrays him as both determined and ambivalent, sometimes at the same exact time. Always subtle in her portrayals, Wright makes Surratt approachable and, in turn, sympathetic. (And, also frustrating -- why wouldn’t she cooperate with the authorities?) But Wright’s depiction is cold, and we don’t ever quite forget that this is an actress playing Surratt.

But the film’s biggest flaw isn’t the acting, costumes, or lighting. It’s that it's curiously slack for a being a courtroom thriller. That the facts of the case have long been known may have somewhat hobbled the momentum -- we know how this story ends, after all. But that’s no excuse for predictable storytelling and scenes lit so brightly you wonder whether the camera broke at some point, leading to overexposure. That said, The Conspirator is still engrossing -- and moving. It's fascinating to be able to see how events unfolded that fateful night.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Mary Surratt’s case. Do you think she was guilty? Do you think she received a fair trial and a just sentence?

  • How closely do you think this film adheres to history? How many liberties with the facts do you think such a film can take? Why might filmmakers decide to do that?

  • What are the movie's messages? What does it say about the American justice system? Do you think anything similar could happen today?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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