AWFJ Women On Film – “The Conspirator” – Susan Granger reviews

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After John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on a Good Friday, April 15, 1865, the search was on for the Southern sympathizers who not only planned his murder but also attempts on the lives of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Among those arrested and placed on trial is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a widow at whose boarding house the conspirators hatched their dastardly plot. Maryland’s Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) recruits idealistic attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union Army captain and Civil War hero, to defend her. Reluctant at first, Aiken gradually becomes convinced of Mary’s innocence, particularly after getting to know her daughter Anna (Evan Rachel Wood) and learning about the treachery of her Confederate courier son John (Johnny Simmons).

But the deck is stacked against Mary at Washington’s Fort McNair in a military tribunal where the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is not the case. In the political climate of post-Civil War Washington, individual rights were subverted by ‘national security.’ Quoting Cicero, someone notes: “In times of war, the law falls silent.” What’s particularly relevant and timely is that Obama’s administration has reversed its earlier position, deciding that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others will be tried by a military tribunal at Guantanamo for their alleged participation in the Sept. 11th World Trade Center attack.

Working from James Solomon’s exhaustively researched, yet heavily verbose script, visually astute director Robert Redford does his best to inject suspense and create an emotional arc for the primary characters in what is, essentially, a historical reconstruction of an adversarial melodrama. Utilizing numerous flashbacks, deftly edited by Craig McKay, the plot unfolds slowly, very slowly, despite persuasive performances from the entire cast, including Kevin Kline, Danny Huston and Justin Long.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Conspirator” is a convoluted, courtroom-centric 6. It’s the first in a roster of historically accurate films produced by The American Film Company, headed by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.