Director: Robert Redford
Writer: James D. Solomon
I've studied Lincoln since I was a kid. In the fifth grade everyone else did a book report on presidents. I was assigned John Wilkes Booth. I have been to Fords Theater, read a bio or two on Lincoln, visited Arlington Cemetery to see the tomb of Lincoln's son and I have plans to visit Springfield, Illinois.
I was excited when I heard about The Conspirator ... even before I found out Mr. Reedus would be portraying one of the villains.
And yes, I knew even back then ... he would be bad and dead ... and I would be eating my five Oreo cookies again before the end of the night. Rules are still rules. :)
"The Conspirator" is the true story of the trail of Mary Surratt, the now presumed innocent victim of the government's quest for justice following the assassination -- the country's first -- of its president, Abraham Lincoln. James McAvoy brilliantly portrays the decorated Northern lawyer who first is strong armed into defending Mrs. Surratt, and later realizes it is the right thing to do even at the cost of his own relationships and reputation. Robin Wright and Kevin Kline join McAvoy in leading a tremendous cast.
Norman Reedus plays Lewis Payne, the killer who was supposed to take out the Security of State. Of all the conspirators to go after Lincoln's cabinet on the night of the April 14, 1865, Lewis Payne showed the most determination and the most violence. Yes, he didn't achieve his objective while Booth did fire a bullet into the president's head, but Payne did attack with a more personal weapon - a Bowie knife. It is a lot more up close and personal when you get your own hands dirty rather than shooting from a distance. He also stormed the house, kicked in doors, attacking others, rage making him move with a ferocity. This character trait, clearly portrayed by Mr. Reedus, was carried out throughout the film as it was him who shouted out during the trail that Mrs. Surrart was innocent, and it was him who, when facing the gallows, continued to spit at his executioners and struggle angerly as he was prepared for the inevitable.
John Micheal Weatherly portrayed George
Atzerodt, the man who was supposed to kill the Vice President, as history dictates, chickens out of his part of the plan and gets drunk instead. On the gallows, he is the one whimpering and scared. Consistency with the characters. It was a testament to good writing, excellent direction and great acting.
Lewis Payne was not a starring role. Because of this his dialogue is limited. The majority of acting had to be portrayed through actions, facials expressions and movement: a harder card to carry. Mr. Reedus must have pulled it off as my viewing partner of the film leaned over several times during the trial to whisper to me: "God, he looks miserable, like he's really there ..."
Lewis Payne was no Daryl Dixon. He couldn't be as Payne's character was based on a real live person, one capable of horrific violence. While Daryl might be a bigot through and through, I don't see him kicking a teenage slave to the ground as Payne reportedly did.
He wasn't a Murphy MacManus ... or any of a dozen parts that I might being to mind. But that is what is great about watching Norman Reedus in any part. Whether he is Van in Floating or Archie in Tough Luck - both roles carrying the whole movie - or he is Lewis Payne, sitting in the back of the room, very quiet and very still, not drawing attention from the story playing out in the forefront, he is very much the character he takes on. And it is hard at the end to see him, to know that even if Lewis Payne, by 1865 standards, deserved his fate, watching the scene on the screen as the prisoners are lead by the gallows, the play of emotions on their faces as they pass their own coffins, is difficult, no matter how many Oreo cookies await.