Conspirator Follows The Drama After Lincoln's Death, Anthony Breznican, USAToday, April 28, 2010.
Any grade-school student can tell you the story of the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater at the hand of John Wilkes Booth. But what happened next? Robert Redford's new film, The Conspirator, follows the race to hunt down the small band of Confederate sympathizers who helped plot the attack. Think of it as Law & Order: Civil War Unit.
James McAvoy (Atonement) stars as a decorated Union soldier who reluctantly agrees to defend one of the accused, boarding-house owner Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), whose son was the lone conspirator to escape the manhunt. "There was a question of whether she was complicit, guilty by association, or even more guilty," says Redford, who directs but doesn't star in the movie. "The lawyer that defended her didn't want to defend her. He was a Union soldier who became a lawyer." His contempt for the suspect gives way to a fear that she is being prosecuted solely to bring her fugitive son out of hiding.
The Conspirator is independently financed and doesn't yet have a distributor. It's the first project made by the American Film Co., which plans to create historical dramas. Redford says he didn't want to simply re-create Lincoln's assassination and deals with that mainly as setup. "All the President's Men was very similar, because you had this big historical event taking place, but what people didn't know was what these two reporters did, digging in under the radar. You didn't need to show Nixon a lot," he says. Redford starred in that 1976 film about the fall of President Nixon.
Surratt was tried by a military commission instead of a civilian court, and with attorneys who represent accused enemies of the state still finding their integrity questioned, The Conspirator may strike present-day nerves. "I don't want to hit that too hard because then it sounds like agit-propaganda," Redford says. "I don't think Americans respond to well to that. But you can show them something and let them decide."
Text and Image Source: USAToday April 28, 2010
Images: Claudette Barius photographer, The American Film Company Productions, Caption One: Director Robert Redford says The Conspirator uses Lincoln only as a setup, the same way All the President's Men "didn't need to show Nixon a lot." Caption Two: Robin Wright plays Mary Surrat opposite Robert McAvoy as her reluctant attorney.