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Film / The Conspirator

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The Conspirator is a 2010 film directed by Robert Redford about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the trial of the conspirators. Robin Wright stars as Mary Surratt, whose degree of culpability has remained controversial ever since 1865. James McAvoy portrays Frederick Aiken, the lawyer assigned to defend her.

This film contains examples of

  • Author Tract: Robert Redford's view of the War on Terror and such practices as indefinite detention and military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay is very, very apparent.
  • Based on a True Story: Very accurate in its depiction of events. The primary departure is in the character of Aiken. The real Aiken was a Democratic Party activist that had strong Southern sympathies. He also had a co-counsel named John W. Clampitt who helped him at the trial after Johnson stepped aside. Additionally, there is little evidence that Stanton strong-armed the commission into returning a death sentence against Surratt.
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  • Clear My Name: Mary Surratt.
  • Disregard That Statement
  • Downer Ending: Mary is hanged.
  • Frameup/Framing the Guilty Party: Aiken believes that witnesses are fabricating their testimony and the government is coercing people into testifying against Surratt, but the film doesn't really take a position on whether or not Surratt actually knew of the murder plot on April 14.
  • Gaussian Girl/Holy Backlight: All over the place, especially in the courtroom scenes. If someone's wearing a white shirt, they're so glowy that it's kind of distracting.
  • Hanging Judge: Hanging Secretary of War, actually, in Edwin Stanton, who controlled the trial.
  • Hope Spot: A writ of habeas corpus! Yay!
  • "How Did You Know?" "I Didn't.": Aiken learns information from his questioning in the first days of the case by accident.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Stanton's view on the whole affair. For him, restoring the peace of the nation is more important than the rights of a few Rebels.
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  • Kangaroo Court: The defense certainly believes the military tribunal that conducts the trial to be this.
  • Oh, Crap!: Aiken's reaction after several witnesses, including one of his own, lie on the stand.
  • Pet the Dog: Stanton refusing to leave Lincoln's bedside after the assassination, clutching the dying President's hand. However monstrous Stanton's actions later on are, it's almost understandable given how shaken he is.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Holt, the prosecutor.
  • Shown Their Work: Many things are amazingly accurate. If you look closely, you'll notice that Mary Suratt's noose had fewer knots in it than the other conspirators. This was, in real-life, because the man tying the nooses expected her sentence to be commuted to life in prison at the last minute, and didn't want to waste his time making a proper noose that would never be used.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Sen. Johnson is seen working on a chess problem at his desk.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: The real one, with the pictures of the actors substituted.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Secretary Stanton.
  • Wham Line: Aiken, looking out of the window at the gallows: "There should only be three." Even if you know what's coming because of history, it's still a chilling moment.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So did Fred break up with that girlfriend of his or not?
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue in the film reveals that John was tried and set free and Aiken left the law and became the first editor of the Washington Post. The director's commentary reveals a bit more about what happened to the characters: Stanton is fired, the President is impeached, John had seven children (two of whom he called Mary), and Aiken died at 43.


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