The Conspirator Movie PosterEvery February, children all across the United States learn about Abraham Lincoln as a man who fought against slavery and kept the country together during the Civil War. But that is usually the extent of most people's knowledge and most are unaware of what he meant to the country at the time. That’s why Robert Redford's film The Conspirator is so important.

James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), Kevin Kline (Dave), and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) star in the historical period film.  When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just before the conclusion of the Civil War, the country reeled. It was just as inconceivable and shocking to them as 9/11 was to us. The Secretary of War (Kevin Kline) was so intent on bringing swift justice that he vigorously pursued the collaborators and tried them in military court. One of these alleged collaborators was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) a widow and mother.

Mary Surratt was a southerner who ran a boarding house. Her son John (Johnny Simmons) was a known confederate of John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) and based on proximity alone she was arrested. Like the Patriot Act is sometimes used today her rights were circumvented and she appealed to a well-known southern senator (Tom Wilkinson) for help. He in turned enlisted the assistance of a Union war hero (James McAvoy). This young officer was recently discharged for wounds received in action and was now returning to his law practice. He wanted nothing to do with this case, but after meeting the client and seeing how much her rights were being violated, his love of the law overcame his resentment and bitterness towards the south.

As directed by Robert Redford there are a lot of parallels between what happened then and what is happening now. Like Gautama Bay, anyone associated with the assassination attempt was thrown into prison without counsel until the military was ready to prosecute. According to the film, one detail that surprised and shocked me was that the actors in the play were arrested too. Just because they were there and some of them knew Booth as an actor they were suspected too. And another fact that was ignored during my grade school education was that Lincoln was not the only target. Three assignation attempts were made that night. This was a major plot.

The Conspirator is an excellent film in and of itself. The acting is great and the subject matter is compelling. But what makes this film even greater is that is will enlighten you as well. After seeing this movie I have become intrigued and want to learn more about that night. That is the sign of a good movie. You carry it with you and think about it long after. There is so much more to Abraham Lincoln than what we learned in elementary school. This film just scratches the surface. What an exciting provocative story. And as far as its parallels as to what is happening today, I only hope that we have more people like Frederick Aiken. I challenge you to read his defense of Mary Surratt and not be moved.

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