Most people recognize the name John Wilkes Booth. Some will even recognize the name Dr. Mudd. Few can tell you who Mary Surratt was. ‘The Conspirator’ is a historical drama by Robert Redford that takes us to a strange period in American history.
Among the people arrested and charged with the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln was Mary Surratt. Surratt ran a boarding house in Washington DC where Booth and other conspirators had held meetings. A young Army captain named Frederick Aiken is assigned to be her defense attorney in the military tribunal. Aiken initially resists because he believes she is guilty, but begins to realize that Mary is being used primarily as bait in an effort to capture her son John, a conspirator that evaded capture.
Aiken was played by James McAvoy. McAvoy did a decent enough job with the role. You feel some sympathy for Aiken. His code of ethics require him to provide the best defense he can for his client, yet his failure is part of the plan. If Aiken were to succeed in getting Surratt acquitted, it would have been professional suicide. The tribunal is anything but impartial and didn’t even attempt to mask their bias. The fix was clearly in, but Aiken fought to the bitter end.
Robin Wright played Mary Surratt. The performance was pretty flat, but I don’t fault Wright for that. The role was written to be flat. Surratt was presented as a reserved woman who spoke very little and was devoted to her faith.
‘The Conspirator’ reminded us of a time when Catholicism was looked at with much suspicion in the US. It also highlights a time in our history when the federal government was in a state of confusion. Immediately after the assassination, there were officials jockeying for position and others being shut out. These were the days immediately after the surrender at Appomattox and the war was still fresh in the minds of everyone on both sides. ‘The Conspirator’ also reminds us of something many American’s forget, that there were plots on the Vice-President and Secretary of State to happen simultaneously.
Overall, the movie was reasonably interesting, but slow paced. This is not ‘Law & Order: Civil War’. The court room, while interesting, holds no surprises and little drama. As mentioned, the characters are purposely reserved. ‘The Conspirator’ is a good choice though for those looking for a change of pace or a topic that isn’t the usual Hollywood fare. Of course it is a must-see for fans of historical drama.
‘The Conspirator’ currently has a score of 55 out of 100 at Metacritic. The film is rated PG-13 and is generally free of objectionable material. The language is mild and the movie is devoid of sex/nudity.
‘The Conspirator’ is available at the Target store located at 9350 Dynasty Dr in Fort Myers.(Click here for a map). The DVD is selling for $19.99 and the Blu-Ray offering is $29.99.
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