Friday, April 15, 2011

The Conspirator - 1 1/2 stars

Did you know that the night Abraham Lincoln was killed, there were other assassins out to kill other members of the government? One victim who survived was William H. Seward, the guy who purchased Alaska from the Russians.

Did you know that the conspirators met and planned at Mary Surratt's boarding house? And after the assassination, she was arrested and tried before a military tribunal? This is interesting stuff that one could make a good historical drama about. Unfortunatly, this isn't it. This is a really boring courtroom drama that looks as though it was shot for a History Channel reenactment.

The star of the movie is Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union soldier ready to have a career in the legal profession. After Lincoln is assassinated and Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) is arrested, he is assigned the job of defending her. The problem is, he believes she is guilty and has no desire to defend her. He seems to think that she is not entitled to a defense, which is not a good mindset for a defense attorney to adopt.

I quickly got tired of Aiken's attitute. In the scenes where he is talking to his client, he all but tells her that he thinks she is guilty, and barely asks any questions. He acts sulky. That's how I would put it.

The movie's goal seems to be to point out the parallels between this event and 9/11. The nation has just suffered a great tragedy, and someone must pay the price. It doesn't much matter whether she is really guilty or not. Her sentencing will help satisfy the country's rage. It seems to me that when you have a lynch mob, you should try to calm them down with rational discourse. Instead, the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) wants to satisfy their blood lust.

The movie is not about whether she is guilty or innocent. Instead the focus is on the fact that she, a civilian, was tried before a military tribunal with no jury of her peers, a right which is guaranteed in the Constitution. This is an injustice which should be looked at, as should the parallels to the Patriot Act and other things post 9/11. But the movie kind of rams these ideas down our throats. I would be more forgiving if the movie were better, but the biggest problem was that it was boring.

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