This is the debut film from the American Film Company- a production company who has made it there goal to produce history based films with a high level of accuracy, yet still be accessible. The stroy here concerns the trial of Mary E. Surratt, the lone female accused of being a conspirator in the plot to assassinate Agraham Lincoln.
What I found interesting about this film is that, surprisingly enough, it covered something I was not actually familiar with, because for some odd reason, this part of Civil War and post Civil War history was never something any of my teachers or professors ever felt the need to bring to students's attentions.
This is a really intriguing story, and not just because courtroom dramas are cool, but because of a lot fo the context surrounding the plot and the trial. This is not a cut and dried story, but a rather complex and well developed set of conflicts, mostly involving Surratt's lawyer reluctantly deciding to represent her, mostly because he is a Union war hero, and defending her puts him in one of the most unenviable positions you could think of. Despite his reluctance, he begins to see that there is more to her story, and also more to the reasons for why there seems to be a conspiracy against her.
This film had three historical consultants, and it shows .The dialogue, costumes, and sets are top notch. There are still some liberties and inaccuracies of course, but the film is more competant in it's goal for accuracy than it could have been. Being that Robert Redford directed this, it is a well-balanced film that is never one sided or thinly sketched. Also thansk to him, it tries to do more than just capture a certain historical event, as can be seen as a condemnation of current military tribunals against Islamic terrorists. This last little bit, though not unwarranted, isn't really necessary.
Probably the most significant thing about this film is its cast. Robin Wright is wonderful in a very nicely observed performance as Surratt. It's a shame she's not given higher regard as an actress because she has a lot of talent. James McAvoy is also quite strong as her lawyer Frederick Aiken. The rest of the cast is overflowing with many notable names, even if some of them just show up for a scene or two then leave. Among them are Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, Colm Meaney, Alexis Bledel, and Justin Long. There's really not a bad lot in the bunch, though Long and Bledel do slightly overact a bit.
Aside from a few minor but expected gripes about inaccuracy, the slight overacting, and the occasional overbearing "dramaticness" of this film, I'm quite pleased with it. The only major concern I have, and it's no small thing, is the film's pace. It's too slow, drags the films out, and makes it feel a lot longer. Thankfully the film is never boring, and there's a lot going on to make one think and keep them engaged, but yeah, this could have been less sluggish and a bit tighter.
All in all, quite a nice film. I mean, I expect decent things from Redford, but this, especially since it concerned something I wasn't familiar with, really caught me off guard and left me feeling pleasantly surprised. You should give it a watch.