Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Conspirator

The Film: The Conspirator

The Actors: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Klein, Tom Wilkinson, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, etc.

The Dealio: As the War Between The States winds down, there are still Southern sympathisers aplenty, and some of them have begun to meet at Mary Surratt's lil ole boarding house in the District. At first, their plan is to kidnap the President of the United States. But, after a buffoonishly ridiculous misadventure in this area, local actor and all-around bright spark, John W. Booth, comes up with another plan. Think we all know what that plan was. And also think we are familiar with what is supposed to have happened to the major players. But one area of the entire thaang always bothered me: that image of Mary Surratt being executed, with several of the alleged conspirators. Well? Did she or didn't she? I have read a great deal about the era, the assassination and the drama surrounding the manhunt that led to the captures, trials and final disposition of all who were felt to have played a role in the murder of Lincoln. Still, not many of the histories shine much light on Surratt. Well, stand by, 'cause Robert Redford is going to change all that.
Wright is Mary Surratt, and (in sort of a weird throwback to John Adams' defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre), McAvoy plays the Union hero selected to provide her defense.
The true beauty of the entire exercise is that we watch McAvoy's Aitkin evolve. Antagonism and a vengeful fury gradually change, with his encounters with this mysterious, silent and contradictory woman. By story's end, Aitkin has become an introspective, curious ferret-er-out of secrets, who is now unwaveringly certain of her innocence.

The Grading Session: 4.29 pengies out of 5. This was an exquisitely acted, beautifully faithful representation of the era and the national temperature of that time. Prendie informs me that the SASS wires are burning up with kudos for the excruciating attention to historical detail -especially the clothing, the settings of the events and, naturally, the arms used throughout. I found McAvoy and Wright were especially noteworthy in their roles. Not so sure about Justin Long (!?), although I do applaud his willingness to try something new. Stretch a taddy bit.
Some points needs must be deducted based on the extremely obvious parallels made by director Redford between the rush to judgement of that chaotic time, and what appears to be happening now, with regard to such modern mutations as Extreme Rendition and modified justice in another time of great national stress and fear. As with his Lions To Lambs, though, I felt assaulted, myself, by the intellectual bludgeoning which was as ever-present as the soundtrack in this film. Sorry, but no need to hop to the extreme strong-arming: I get it. It's a metaphor. For 'Now'.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, justice is on the chopping block in the interests of 'teaching a lesson', in 'the national interests' and 'for the public good'. Sometimes, it actually gets the chop because of things we can not- and never will- know or understand: power grabs and money, for example. Most importantly: we are no closer to knowing the full extent of Surratt's complicity and active, willing participation in the assassination now than we were as it was happening. Cooler heads may now prevail, but the cushioning, swirling passage of time continues to obscure an authentic view of the events surrounding this event. Oh to have been a fly on the wall.

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