A country wracked with fear and grief. Conspirators hunted down and jailed in military prisons. Debate over trial in civilian or military courts. A government that has pre-determined the guilt of all those arrested and held in custody. Sound like familiar themes? If you think we're talking about a modern dilemma you'd be wrong. These are just a few of the themes Robert Redford touches upon in an outstanding film, THE CONSPIRATOR. It is the story of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. It focuses on the trial of Mary Surratt, a boarding house owner who's son, John was one of those who plotted the shooting. Who would defend a Southern woman accused of helping to end the life of the beloved President? The answer is no one. But Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy) is thrown into it against his will. The Civil War hero has no interest, but slowly begins to believe in a larger issue than guilt or innocence– the shredding of the Constitution by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (reliably well played by Kevin Kline). McAvoy is a wonderful actor and his frustration is pouring out of the screen as the film builds to its conclusion. Robin Wright has a quiet dignity as Mary Surratt, a mother who sacrifices her own life to save her children. The wonderful performances are everywhere. Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, James Badge Dale, Justin Long, John Cullum, Colm Meaney. I could go on and on about the performances. The audience can feel the dankness of the jail cells and the courtroom thanks to wonderful cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel. And the score by Mark Isham does what a score is supposed to do, move the story along without becoming intrusive. The parallels to Guantanamo Bay and the 9/11 terror suspects are obvious, as Redford wears his politics on his sleeve. But none of that gets in the way of great storytelling. The Conspirator will be forgotten by Oscar time. Hmm, sounds like a conspiracy to me. — Alan Yudman

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