The Conspirator is a dramatic piece based on the trial of Mary Suratt (Robin Wright). The film opens with coordinated assassination attempts on President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary Of State William H. Seward by Confederate rebels still sore about The Civil War outcome. Only John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) was successful in killing his target. Law enforcement was in hot pursuit to apprehend Booth and his cohorts.

The bulk of the film centers on the aftermath of the manhunt when Mary Suratt is lumped in with some of Booth’s gang. Due to the rebels using Mrs. Suratt’s boarding house as a meeting place and Booth’s friendship with Mrs. Suratt’s son, John (Johnny Simmons), the woman is viewed as a prime target for public vengeance. Former Union army captain turned lawyer, Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy), is tasked with being Mrs. Suratt’s defense lawyer. While the majority call for Mary Suratt to hang in the gallows Aiken reluctantly decides to defend his client’s rights.

The Conspirator is one part law drama and one part History Channel program recreating some of the actual events that took place during Mary Suratt’s trial with added ingredients of dramatic license to give the “Historwood” movie some flavor. Though the cast is star-studded the performances are by-the-book making me believe that Robert Redford (director) wanted the plot to be the main focus so the moral lessons would hit home harder.

So, yeah, there are lots of notable faces in The Conspirator; James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel, Evan Rachel Wood, Colm Meaney, Danny Huston and Stephen Root.
The performances weren’t outstanding but understated, I think. Again, I think Redford wanted Mary Suratt’s trial and the issues related to the trial to be the main subject for the audience to focus on.

I don’t know how historically accurate The Conspirator was but I definitely understood the underlying tones of the film related to how our inalienable rights can become alienated from us when the “powers that be” deem it necessary. Mary Suratt’s situation was pretty grim with faulty testimony and a war tribunal that seemed to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to anything that might support Mary’s defense. Equally worse was watching Aiken struggling to keep the trial fair and honest when the majority wanted retribution.

While The Conspirator wasn’t the most dramatically breathtaking film of the year the subject matter is something to chew on because we’re still faced with it today. Is the law really as blind as advertised? Do all individuals tried in an American court truly innocent before being proved guilty? The Conspirator reminded me of the startling fact that I could be just as easily railroaded in court as Mary Surrat was. It also raised questions about human beings and our capacity to judge as well as the confusion it causes when the laws set up to give us fair representation can so swiftly be taken away in favor of public opinion or political machinations.

Overall, The Conspirator was a decent film but the theater experience was one I could’ve had a home.

Rhymes With: Fair Game (2010), Conviction (2010), Amistad (1997), The Duchess (2008), Marie Antoinette (2006)