Robert Redford's "The Conspirator" is a thinly-veiled political allegory warning against the danger of trying terrorists in military tribunals. And that's why his movie about the military trial of Lincoln assassination conspirator Mary Surratt is problematic.
That's not me talking, that's Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday in her April 15 movie review:
Although historians, including Surratt biographer Kate Clifford Larson, agree that Surratt was almost certainly guilty of conspiracy, Redford needs to court ambiguity in order for viewers to buy in to her plight, so rather than the keeper of “the nest that hatched the egg” of the would-be coup, he portrays her as a martyred mother, going to her grave rather than betray her likely culpable son (who was cooling his heels in Canada while his mother was tried and hanged).But alas, Hornaday didn't stop there. Finding it necessary to take a swipe at potential moviegoers in red state America (emphasis mine), she later added:
But Redford also needs to smooth out Surratt’s rougher edges because of his larger agenda, which is to portray her trial as a miscarriage of justice that, in its prosecution of civilians in military court, selective evidence, skirting of the Constitution and abrogation of due process, bears more than passing resemblance to post-9/11 policies. From the bags put over the heads of Surratt and her fellow detainees to the Rumsfeld-esque wire-rim glasses Kline wears as Stanton, Redford’s point is clear: Regardless of her guilt or innocence, Surratt was the victim of a grievous injustice that violated the most cherished ideals of the country she was accused of trying to destroy.
But “The Conspirator’s” mistrust of federal power doesn’t seem altogether earned and, what’s more, it takes on new meaning seen through the lens of the present day. While Redford clearly began the project with an eye toward Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the movie’s being released in a tea party-fied America, where loathing for government and cries of “Shut it down!” often teeter perilously close to the brink of secessionist fever. What was clearly intended as an allegory about civil liberties instead exists at that paranoid point where Left and Right join in mutual mistrust of a malign, unchecked government.Slamming Tea Partiers as secessionists is nothing new, but this is the first time I've seen it in a movie review.