Robert Redford's The Conspirator tells the largely forgotten story of Mary Surratt, whose son John is accused of being part of the plot that killed President Abraham Lincoln. When authorities could not find her son — he had fled the country and was never convicted of the crime — she became a target for vengeance.
Less than three months after the assassination, she was indicted as a co-conspirator and was hanged, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government.
As we look back 150 years to the American Civil War and 10 years to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this piece of history appears timely. In the wake of the Lincoln murder, many in the North wanted blood. The evidence against Surratt (Robin Wright) was for the most part circumstantial. She was proudly a rebel sympathizer, but she was fierce in her denial that she was part of the plot to kill the president.
Nevertheless, she was tried before a military tribunal, as the government had suspended a number of liberties of those suspected of aiding the nation's enemies, including the right of due process.
In Redford's thought-provoking version of the story, Union war hero Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is named to defend Surratt, but as he pushes the case, facing off against prosecuting attorney Joseph Holt (Danny Huston), he finds there is little appetite for finding the truth. Audiences might find a parallel with today.
The Conspirator boils down to being an interesting, well-made courtroom drama. Redford can be a bit ponderous at times, but he knows how to entertain. What you take from it, though, might depend on how you read history.
The Conspirator: Two-Disc Collector's Edition retails for $29.95 or $39.99 on Blu-ray.