Robert Redford has succeeded in bringing this little remembered travesty to light and those who insisted I see it, I am in your debt.
It is April, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, he did not act alone; the war, unofficially is still being waged (the last shot fired was in June of 1865) the animosities, tensions and hatreds between the North and South are pulsating, brutally, savagely raw, reflecting their ideologies.
The film’s focus is the military trial of Mary Surratt, the boarding house owner, where the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was conceived. Robin Wright gives simultaneously a stoic and sensitive performance as “the conspirator”; she maintains her dignity, mystery throughout, never wavering in her devotion, loyalty to the Confederacy; with the perfection of hindsight she and her children should have stayed in the South. To her, guiltlessness is concrete.
Unionist Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a survivor of the savagery, at 27, initially rebels then accepts the ponderous position as her lawyer and tries desperately to change the venue from a military to a civilian court. McAvoy has been disparaged as this fledgling attorney, coming to terms with disparate causes, but in my estimation, his performance succeeds in convincing the viewer of the layers of emotions he flays before the prescient wisdom of the law and constitution allows him to surmount his prejudices and strive for the righteousness Mary and all individuals are entitled to.
The supporting roles were stunning but problematic in interpretation, especially Kevin Kline as war secretary Edwin Stanton; recalcitrant, cold- blooded in his treatment of Mary.
Evan Rachel Wood gives a genuine and calculating performance as Anna Surratt, Mary’s daughter ( diametrically different than “Veda” in the recent HBO production of “Mildred Pierce”).
See this movie for its educational value; almost 150 years have passed, there are yearly reenactments of Civil War military strategies; a throbbing, never dormant remembrance of the days, years “gone with the wind”.
THREE STARS!!! (OUT OF FIVE)