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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Conspirator (2011)

In the aftermath of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, eight people are arrested and charged with conspiracy to kill the President. One of the eight is a woman, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who would become the first woman to be executed in the United States. Robert Redford, never one of the most cinematic of directors, directs in a forthright straight ahead style, almost like a filmed play. But his decision to do so is correct and smart one as it allows the audience to concentrate on the human drama and systematic dismantling of constitutional rights by a nation seeking revenge rather than justice. Most of the film plays out like a courtroom drama and as such it holds its own with the best of them (THE VERDICT, ANATOMY OF A MURDER). Normally, I'm not a fan of these Kramer-esque "civics lessons" movies but Redford never hammers the message nor does he let it overshadow the mortal turmoil being played out. Wright is superb as Mary Surratt, avoiding the histrionics that a lesser actress might have fallen prey to instead showing us a victim of circumstance beyond her control. The muted score is by Mark Isham. The stellar cast includes James McAvoy as Surratt's initially unwilling attorney, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood (excellent), Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, John McCullum, Colm Meaney and Alexis Bledel.

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