THE CONSPIRATOR - THE SUNDAY COMMENTARY
I had the opportunity to view, "The Conspirator," a fill by Robert Redford that portrays the Lincoln Assassination and more specifically the trial of Mary Surratt the first woman executed in The United States who was hanged as one of the conspirators and accomplices of John Wilkes Booth the assassin of President Lincoln.
When I first heard of this film, as a history and especially Civil War buff, I was excited and very intrigued by the prospect of the movie. After learning the picture was being directed by Robert Redford I began to have a great deal of misgivings about what the movie would be used for and how it would portray the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination and the trial of Surratt.
Redford is a excellent actor but as a director in most instances he uses his movies to express his very liberal views and as such most of his directorial pictures have a view that is polar opposite of mine and have been pictures I have avoided watching. So at first I was disappointed when I heard who the director was since the film dealt with a poignant story of the Civil War.
My misgivings about Redford directing it became over shadowed by the subject matter and after reading several reviews of the film that expressed favorable and historically accurate portrayals of the events I went to watch it on opening day and am extremely glad I did. The Conspirator is one of the best historical films to be produced in many years and is almost eerily accurate in its portrayals and acting.
Robin Wright who is probably best known for playing Jenny in,"Forrest Gump," is Mary Surratt the owner of a Washington DC boarding house where those involved in the assassination met to create their plan to first kidnap then evolved into a plot to kill Lincoln. Wright bears a striking resemblance to Surratt and not only brings this historical figure to life for the movie screen but makes one forget that you are watching an actress portraying a part.
Some reviewers who had not watched the film but made their review based on Redford's politics and initial screenings of segments of the film stated that Redford attempted to portray Surratt as completely innocent of involvement, a position that most historians disagree and would be revisionist history. At one point in the film Redford from exhaustive historical research and the involvement of dozens of historians in the making the film lays this charge to rest as he shows Surratt in an attempt to exonerate her son of the plot to kill Lincoln revealing her knowledge of the plot to kidnap the sixteenth President which places her historically as one at least involved by association with the conspiracy.
James McAvoy known for his rolls in ,"Wanted," and," The Last King of Scotland," portrays Frederick Aiken a former Union Captain and now attorney who is charged with the unenviable task by Maryland Senator Reverdy Johnson played excellently by Tom Wilkinson with defending Mrs. Surratt before a military tribunal in Washington with sentiment and a government calling for the quick retribution for those involved in the assassination.
Aiken is not only reluctant to defend Surratt but like most believes her total quilt and wishes to see her hang for the crime. McAvoy brilliantly shows Aiken's disdain for Surratt which turns to a compassion as he sees the tribunal becoming more of an inquisition with a predetermined verdict. While never quite accepting Surratt's innocence as she claims he understand the Constitutional ramifications of the trial and the excess that is taking place in light of the emotion following the assassination and the war.
I had chills when Booth and several of the other men involved in the assassination came on screen as Redford brilliantly recreated the actual assassination, the attempt on Vice President Johnson, and the attack on Secretary of State Seward. As these actors came on screen and the events of the assassination and attempts on the others took place the likeness of the actors to the actual men involved was almost eery as if Redford pulled them from the history books and placed them in true life on the screen.
The attention to detail and the historical accuracy of the film make it a must see for anyone who loves history and especially The Civil War. For those who are not history or Civil War buffs, the film is an excellently acted movie of a story that needs to be told and is told with great care and attention to even the smallest detail of a story that is riveting to the viewer whether one likes history or not.
The only exception to Redford's attention to detail does stand out for those of us who are Civil War buffs and that is the portrayal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Kevin Kline portrays Stanton and does an excellent job as the powerful and somewhat unethical War Secretary. My only criticism for his portrail and for the movie for that matter is Kline's beard. Stanton in every historical picture is shown with a long shaggy almost unkept beard. Kline has a short and combed beard. A minor detail but unusual for a film that painstakingly follows other even small details.
Many surmise that Redford is using this film as a political tool to express his liberal view against military tribunals for the detainees held a Guantanamo Bay. With his reputation I can see why some would have this view of Redford's intention for the film. Whatever his personal agenda for the film he does not allow it to show in the picture as he brilliantly recreates accurately every aspect of the assassination, trial of Mary Surratt and the execution of Surratt and three others involved in the conspiracy.
Most motion pictures are given a rating of one to five stars by those who review films. Five stars is considered to be a must see film and the highest praise given by reviewers. This film surpasses five stars in every way and is a must see film for not only a history or Civil War buff but for anyone who wishes to watch a brilliant film with an excellent story and magnificent acting. The Conspirator is all that and more.
As an Independent film it is currently in limited distribution but has done very well at the box office in its opening weekend and will be picked up by a major distributor for broader release over the next few weeks. I highly recommend this excellent film and suggest every member of the family take the opportunity when possible to watch, "The Conspirator,"