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Injustice done a great justice

Redford’s new film examines the Lincoln assassination.

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A battle-scarred lawyer starts to wonder what he was fighting for when he faces a military court bent on revenge and a nation willing to forget the Constitution to have that revenge in “The Conspirator,” Robert Redford’s courtroom drama about the Lincoln assassination.

This wonderfully cast and carefully shot period piece focuses on Mary Surratt, one of the people accused of conspiring to murder President Lincoln.

James McAvoy plays Frederick Aiken, an officer just recovered from combat, a man whose chief hope is to restart his life and marry the girl (Alexis Bledel) who waited for him while he fought for the Union.

But one night of terror — the murder of the president, the attempted murder of the secretary of state — interrupts that. The secretary of war, Edward Stanton (Kevin Kline, in a fine fury) sets up a military court to try the accused, among them Surratt (Robin Wright), who ran a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met.

Sen. Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) declares it an Inquisition and shames Aiken into joining the cause. Aiken is a reluctant, inexperienced defense attorney.

Wright plays Surratt as a defiant but resigned Catholic woman who won’t give away her son’s whereabouts no matter what. Even her daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) can’t dissuade her.

The trial itself is both a comedy of injustice and a parade of great character actors.


What: “The Conspirator”

Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Colm Meaney, Alexis Bledel, Evan Rachel Wood

Directed by: Robert Redford

Running time: 123 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for some violent content

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