Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. As the whole nation turns against her, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer to uncover the truth and save her life.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
In the wake of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, the Vice-President, and the Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt, 42, owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the ominous back-drop of post-Civil War Washington, newly-minted lawyer, Frederick Aiken, a 28-year-old Union war-hero, reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. As the trial unfolds, Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her own son. Written by
Redford's version of historical event is flawed but interesting...
Once again, the young actor JAMES McAVOY gives an earnest and altogether convincing portrait of a man assigned to be the defense lawyer for Mary Surratt, accused as one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Since the whole story is told from his point of view, it emerges as a realistic depiction of how events might have unfolded, taking no firm stand on the innocence or guilt of the accused. As the nation mourns the sudden death of its leader taken from them just as the Civil War ended, we are told that justice must be swift to heal the wounds of the public and satisfy a thirst for revenge. It's that viewpoint that makes this film relevant today, in view of other controversial historical events, but first and foremost the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
One glaring quibble: Apparently, to fully immerse the viewer in this time of history and to suit the flavor of the grim tale, Redford has chosen to use very muted color photography so that this is almost a sepia tone experience. But do we have to be reminded so flagrantly that this was the candlelit era? Scenes outside of the courtroom could have used flashes of real color, as could the social circle interiors of other scenes instead of keeping the low-key lighting so constant. It became a distraction for me. He may as well have used glorious B&W.
Other technical aspects are fine and the background score is effective without becoming overwhelming. ROBIN WRIGHT PENN plays Mary Surratt with quiet dignity and strength. KEVIN KLINE is almost unrecognizable as the stubbornly determined EDWIN STANTON seeking quick justice, EVAN RACHEL WOOD is effective as the distraught daughter Anna Surratt, and JOHNNY SIMMONS is sobering as the accused woman's son who manages to escape imprisonment for his role in the John Wilkes Booth caper. His character, unfortunately, isn't fleshed out at all.
Biggest supporting role goes to TOM WILKINSON as the man who urges McAvoy to take the defense case against his wishes. He and McAvoy share most of the running time on screen and do magnificent jobs.
History buffs will no doubt find this more interesting than the average movie fan looking for a more adventurous look at the past, but despite flaws, it is competently made and does recreate the actual events in a satisfying manner by use of flashbacks and an intelligent script. But did it have to be so dark?
26 of 34 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?