We all know that the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth (played in The Conspirator by Toby Kebbell) assassinated US President Abraham Lincoln (Gerald Bestrom) and was later killed during capture by Union soldiers, but did he work alone? It'll come as a surprise to many people that he was part of a much greater plot that also involved the planned assassination of Vice President Andrew Jackson (Dennis Clark) and Secretary of State William Seward, neither of whom was killed, though Seward was stabbed repeatedly.
The conspiracy that surrounding Lincoln's assassination is perfect for a historical film and director Robert Redford delivers an excellent drama with The Conspirator, one well worth watching both for its historical value and because it's just a darn good film with more than one surprise twist.
The film centers on Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), mother of conspirator John Surratt (Johnny Simmons). By running a boarding house in Washington DC where the conspirators hatched their plot, was she therefore culpable as an accomplice? The heads of the military tribunal, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt (Danny Huston) and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Klein), clearly believe she's guilty and that the pretense of any trial is a waste of time, but was Mary truly guilty?
The thankless task of defending her rests with newly graduated lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), who wrestles with matters of constitutional fairness (why a military tribunal when the accused is a civilian?) and the negative social effects of defending a much hated woman in a public court of inquiry, along with his own questions of her guilt or innocence. A former Union soldier, there's an additional layer of conflict with his peers as he professes his belief that Mary is, in fact, innocent of knowledge of the conspiracy.