Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Conspirator

This latest film produced and directed by Robert Redford is a historical drama that replays the military trials of those suspected of coordinating and carrying out the murder of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as coordinated attempts on the lives of Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

The film follows the specific trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a widow whose boarding house was a meeting place for the conspirators. Set to defend her is Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), who was recently a captain in the Union Army who has just returned to law practice at the age of 27. He is rather forced into taking Surratt's case even though he believes her to be guilty from the onset.

I found the movie rather slow to start but, after awhile, the film was quick to gain interest, mostly because of the way the deck of justice is stacked against Mary and her lawyer. At every turn in this military tribunal, Aiken's thrusts and parries are thwarted, mostly by the rather nasty tribunal head (Colm Meaney) and the prosecuting lawyer Joseph Holt (Danny Huston). However, as the layers are pealed away, we discover those powers working behind the scenes, like Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), who are convinced that the nation needs convicted bodies and may not survive if it doesn't get them. The movie became fairly riveting when, during the proceeding, I made the rather obvious connection between this hundred-year-old military trial of civilians and our country's current and recent administration's position of selecting those involved in the 9/11 attacks for the same military judgment without benefit of jury.

We would love to have lawyer James McAvoy on our side in any judicial process, as his portrayal of Surratt's lawyer dugdeeper than was politically prudent. And McAvoy's Aiken is, of course, the lens through which we watch this trial. Is Mary innocent? Did she or her daughter know more about the brewing conspiracy involving her son? That may be of interest to us but really isn't important. The relevance is whether justice was served, and whether those suspected of committing the most heinous crimes imaginable within our borders are deserving of the rights the Constitution demands. One year after Surratt was hanged, the Supreme Court said yes.

Thumb's up.


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