Redford’s film on the Lincoln murder fails to convince

Today, on the 146th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert Redford’s new film “The Conspirator” about the trial of the widow, Mary Surratt, and the others conspiring to kill Lincoln, opened here in Washington.

Mary Surratt, convincingly played by Robin Wright, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal for having participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, and she was hanged as the first woman in U.S. history. But was she guilty?

The film provides no clear answer to that, but it sows doubts after a politically-driven military tribunal with obvious parallels to today’s America and the upcoming military trials of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. The main issue in the film thus becomes: how does the rule of law function in time of war? Poor, is the film’s response to the year 1865, and the implied answer to what is happening today, after Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the film is strangely silent on the four-year long Civil War and its causes. Not a word about slavery. So in some strange way, the North and those who fought for the Union, become the culprits, while the South and the conspirators against Lincoln are the martyrs, fighting and dying for a cause.

The film and its story are never convincing to me. It never grabs hold of me and shakes me. It is somehow unemotional where there should have been so much emotion and drama. With the exception of Robin Wright, the other roles are fairly uninteresting, James McAvoy as a defense lawyer, Kevin Kline as the Secretary of War, and Tom Wilkinson as a powerful attorney.

No, “The Conspirator” was unfortunately not a great movie experience.

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