Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, eight people were hung for the crime, including one woman, Mary Surratt—the first female to be executed by the United States federal government. The Conspirator tells her ill-fated story as an American boarding house owner convicted of taking part in the conspiracy. But she might not have been guilty of having any actual part in the crime.
Rather than try to determine her culpability, the Robert Redford–directed movie is more interested in the dispensation and upholding of justice during times of war (the assassination took place as the American Civil War was drawing to a close), elevating it above the sentimentality of weepy courtroom dramas.
A stellar James McAvoy plays the reluctant young lawyer Frederick Aiken tasked to defend Surratt (Robin Wright); he does an especially good job at bringing out the irony of his character—one whose allegiance to his country compels him to defend the rights and petition for a fair court proceeding for the very person accused of killing its leader. The film shines in its well-wrought dialogue; as Aiken at one point implores the prosecutors, “Do not mistake revenge for justice!”
The Conspirator is the first film produced by The American Film Company, which produces feature films based on the actual history of America’s past—being founded on the belief that real life is often more compelling than fiction. Barring the occasionally disjointed sequences that never really build up to an impressionable climax, it’s a decent, thought-provoking watch.