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The Conspirator

Year: 2010
Production Co: The American Film Company
Director: Robert Redford
Producer: Robert Redford
Writer: James Solomon
Cast: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Colm Meaney, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel

Another dependable drama from Robert Redford that's – at its heart – about the notion of how important dispassionate justice is where no institutional interests can corrupt it. His films are never showy or stagey and I don't think he's ever too preachy, as most of the criticism about Lions For Lambs claimed.

It doesn't seem the case that Redford starts out with something to say. Instead he looks for stories that align with what he wants to say. His left-leaning politics are no secret, but this movie doesn't hammer a message across your face, even though it delivers one deftly.

Like always, he gets the period and prevailing mood right (just look at the masterful Quiz Show) and lets the characters and the script above all else tell the story.

John Wilkes Booth and a gang of accomplices assassinate Lincoln and are soon rounded up by police except for one. Knowing the public is thirsting for blood, a military court prepares to throw them a scrap by putting boarding house owner Mary Surratt (Penn, as dignified and talented as ever) on trial in a court designed to find her guilty. Her missing son, one of the gang, made friends with one of the ringleaders, so the prosecution assumes (or makes up) that she must have known what was going on under her own roof and failed to report it.

Returned civil war veteran and lawyer Fredrick (McAvoy) is assigned to what seems like a hopeless cause, but Surratt's assertion of her innocence and the blatant perversion of justice he sees in the courtroom gradually bring out the fight in him. It's solid rather than gripping and assured rather than flashy.

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