“In times of war…..the law is silent”
” The Conspirator” got mixed reviews for meddling with history, the most interesting by Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post*. But in the end a film less about history than an exploration of the rule of law, which it performs with great passion. In order to fully explore this theme, it’s necessary to forgive Redford for slanting a historical backdrop a bit to provide that obligatory backdrop.
The story line revolves around Mary Surratt, who ran a boarding house in Washington, DC said to have harbored the conspirators that shot Lincoln and assaulted the Vice President and Secretary of State in 1865. “If she did know, she’s guilty. If she didn’t know, she should have”. The outcome was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any lawyer that attempted a defense was damned to be a public pariah no matter what the outcome.
The film distills quickly to courtroom drama exploring whether an association with guilt should be as equally punished as authentic guilt for the purpose of healing the country’s wound. And whether the quickest and most effective way to deter future attacks from enemy stragglers is to suspend the rule of law, the presumption of innocence, burdens of proof and jury by peers. There are obvious implications to the rounding up of potential and otherwise conspirators after 9/11, denying them the same due process.
This film is infinitely better than Redford’s last dud (Lions for lambs) that stunk up theaters for about a week in 2007. He gets his point across expertly and prompts the audience to think about the issue. The film is immaculately produced, consummate period costuming, excellent cinematography and impeccable interpretation by the actors including James McAvoy, Robin Wright and Kevin Kline. The courtroom scenes are a little stagey and the end a bit melodramatic. IMDB gives is a respectable 7/10. Rotten Tomatoes isn’t as generous with a 55% rating.
I think it’s interesting and deserves a solid 4/5 smoky courtrooms for the production and performances. 3/5 cackling laugh-machines for the history.