The philosopher George Santayana once said, “The one who does not remember history is bound to repeat it again.” Apparently our nation’s collective memory is fairly short, because clearly we have not learned a thing since 1865.
“The Conspirator,” the latest film from actor-director Robert Redford, is a parable for our time: The constitution is subverted after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, to try and convict the assassins.
Similar to recent events at Guantanamo Bay, the alleged conspirators behind Lincoln’s murder are treated to a heavily biased military tribunal. There is doubt regarding the complicity of one of the accused – Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the mother of the sole conspirator on the lam – and a Union-veteran lawyer (James McAvoy) must overcome his own biases in order to ensure that she gets a fair trial. As we now know, that never happens, thanks to the draconian methods of Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), Lincoln’s war secretary.
Despite being mostly set in a courtroom, “The Conspirator” is absolutely gripping, due largely in part to its relevance and fine cast. McAvoy capably carries the film on his shoulders, and he is supported by spectacular performances by Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood and a scenery-chewing Danny Huston. While Alexis Bledel’s character is mostly superfluous to the action, it is nice to see that Rory Gilmore is still alive.
The curious thing about this film is that it never really discusses the conspirators’ motivations – the assassins are simply portrayed as disgruntled rebels. Even though some of the dialogue is completely obvious in its intent to draw connections with today’s events, “The Conspirator” remains an engrossing, timely and excellent film.
Sarah B. Pilchick may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rating: 3/4 stars
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright
Director: Robert Redford
MPAA Rating: PG-13