This film is the story of the lone female defendant, who stood trial for her alleged part in the assassination of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth is so frequently the name associated with the killing of the Commander in Chief who led our nation during the Civil War and ultimately was able to bring an end to slavery.
Several books in more recent history have expanded on the story surrounding the conspirators and the manhunt that followed the killing of the President. This version, compiled and written by James D. Solomon and Gregory Bernstein, presents most of the common info known about the killing, with a more clear window into the post-assassination getaway plan and subsequent apprehension.
The female, Mary Surrat (Robin Wright), was a local boarding house owner. Her home and her son are both implicit in the plot leading to the death of President Lincoln, but the question is: Was she involved?
The fair trial is pretty tricky as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) declares that Surrat is to be tried by Military tribunal along with the more clearly involved conspirators, meaning the case will completely be presided over by military officials.
You can guess where their allegiances lie and those associated with the trial are pushing for a speedy resolution to help the nation heal.
The question of this film is one of Constitutional rights. Are the rights of citizens lost to the powers that be in times of war?
Surrat's counsel, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) begins this journey a decorated war hero for the Union. He doesn't want to represent Surrat, but is basically forced to do so by Senator Johnson. Aiken was a lawyer before the war and while his allegiance to the North is unwavering, we come to see him as a soldier for justice above all else.
This film unfolded slowly and we are given bits of information along the way that sway us to and fro in terms of the viewer's opinion of Mary Surrat.
The supporting cast is vast with Evan Rachel Wood, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, Norman Reedus, Danny Huston, and Stephen Root. Justin Long seems a bit out of place, but for his scenes, he holds his own. I think he will find a place along side the likes of Nic Cage and Bruce Willis in terms of versitility, but it will take time to see Justin and not think of Randy St. James...heehee...(see also: Zack and Miri Make a Porno).
While this film didn't blow me out of the water, perhaps for its oppressive themes, it was a well-told and meaningful story that shines a light on an event in history that has been told one particular way for many years. Not that the story we know is incorrect. John Wilkes Booth did shoot and kill President Abraham Lincoln...it's just that we really haven't delved into the finer points of that story.
Though the story is Mary Surrat, so much more is learned about this tragedy from our past. Redford is a noted liberal and he allows politics to bleed into much of his work (see also: Lions for Lambs). There is a message of tyranny and governmental oppression that given the circumstances, was not an unsurprising reaction. But in Redford's delivery, there is a complete film that but for the unsettling resolution, will leave most movie goers satisfied.
The Reel Rhino tries to be apolitical in his movie reviewing efforts, so Redford's politics aside, he is a powerful force in the movie making industry. He deserves both praise and recognition for his efforts in the film community and as a stellar example of green filmmaking. The Sundance Festival is truly a great yearly gathering and Redford is alone to thank for its creation. Kevin Smith, Quintin Tarantino, and countless other filmmakers got their humble beginnings at Sundance.
All this aside, I got my Birthday movie. Yippee....
4 of 5 Horns from The Reel Rhino....
MeeMaw and MeePaw...glad you could be here to celebrate with me...I love you both and my wife and son, for making this a great birthday.
And to the rest of you, until later...take care.