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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Robert Redford's 'The Conspirator': A classic 9/11 movie?

Robert_tredford Robert Redford may be past his prime in Hollywood, but he's still brimming with enough media star power to land major stories today in both my paper and the New York Times. The pieces, including an especially interesting one by my colleague Betsy Sharkey, largely focus on the "irony," as Redford put it, of this once hugely influential Hollywood star and filmmaker having to schlep his new indie movie to the Toronto Film Festival, where he hopes to find a distributor.

It is definitely a sign of the times that this Hollywood icon, who once had studios at his beck and call, is now feeling the need to beat the drums to get some attention for his new film, "The Conspirator." The movie, which stars Robin Wright and James McAvoy, is a historical drama set in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, when seven men and one woman (played by Wright) are charged with conspiring to murder the president. The film was financed with independent money because it's virtually impossible to persuade a major studio to back a real-life historical drama today, at least unless you jump through a thousand hoops -- like keeping the budget under $20 million or providing your own financing and then loading the film up with a couple of big stars (working for peanuts, of course).

But for me, the most fascinating aspect of Redford's new film, which I saw recently, isn't its uphill struggle to find a distributor. It is the historical resonance of the story it tells, which makes it a perfect film to have its Toronto debut on Sept. 11. After Lincoln was shot and killed, America was traumatized, much as it was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And as the film makes clear, the War Department, run by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (played in the film by Kevin Kline), is determined to quench the country's thirst for vengeance, even if that means bending the law and sending a seemingly innocent woman to the gallows. It's not a pretty picture, certainly no prettier a picture than the one showing terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay prisons, some held under the flimsiest of pretexts, many without access to proper legal protections. 

When Sharkey asked Redford about the historical parallels to today, he backpedaled, saying it was "up to the audience" to decide how to interpret the story. But I think he's being way too cautious. What makes the film stick in your mind isn't so much its depiction of Civil War-era strife as its unsettling relationship to many of the events in modern-day America, which has struggled to retain its ideals while battling the scourge of terrorism. If anyone is going to want to buy this film and put it into multiplexes, it won't just be because they're impressed by Wright's performance as Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed by the United States government. It will be because they see a film whose story is loaded with reminders that if we cannot remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it. 

Photo: Robert Redford at the opening ceremonies this January for the Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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Mary Surratt was guilty. Guilty as hell, where she is right now.

Thought the exact same thing when I read the script (9/11 allusions). Glad to see that stuff stuck for the final product.

Thought the exact same thing when I read the script (9/11 allusions). Glad to see that stuff stuck for the final product.

Redford is still hot!

I was just talking about this film last night and look forward to seeing it!

You can see Lincoln and his Ancestors-at-a-glance chart at the the Family Forest Project website.

Mr. Goldstein, please read two great books, AMERICAN BRUTUS and MANHUNT. No reputable historian believes Mary Surratt was innocent. The question was the extent of her guilt and the question of her execution.

Sigh!---Unfortunately, the railroading of Mary Suratt, among others, which Redford naively depicts, misses the historic mark on more counts than merely her complicity. When you speedily kill off enough conspirators, including the assassin as he was being captured, to satisfy the question of prosecutorial thoroughness, including the woman, possibly for the shock value, you throw suspicion off members of the prosecution, Stanton, who'd ordered them speedily conducted, especially.

Stanton did not demand speedy trials because of the nation's "vengeance for blood", as Redford inaccurately depicts. Stanton was one of the Radical Republicans who indeed wanted blood vengeance on the South, specifically for the war, and not for Lincoln's murder.

But it was Lincoln who stood in the way of Stanton's well-known desires by vetoing the Rad Repubs' bill that would have sternly penalized the South, over Stanton's fierce objections. Lincoln offered, in his 2nd Inaugural Address, "malice toward none", meaning the South, a mere 6 weeks before the conspiracy killed him, and days after Stanton offered to resign from the cabinet (he wanted to be nominated for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court)---which Lincoln refused. Lincoln was undeniably in the way of the agenda of the Radical Republicans and, had he lived, as the man who would be most credited by the country for winning the war, would have thrown up more than roadblocks to the Radical Republicans' train. As national hero and party leader he could have derailed it. There was much more than John Wilkes Booth's Southern sympathies in high pitch. Lincoln's removal guaranteed no Republican opposition to the Radicals' plans in Congress.

But Vice-President Andrew Johnson survived the assassination attempt on his life the same night when his assassin got drunk instead. So we know the plot included ridding Johnson from the line of succession, which would have given the presidency to the president pro tem of the Senate, Ben Wade, another Radical Republican. Would these who we know as the conspirators, by killing both Lincoln and Johnson, have so blithely put a president in office who would have given the torch to the South??

Like Lincoln, Johnson did not want vengeance upon the South, and repeatedly wrecked Rad Repubs' attempts to make it worse for the South than it got. So the Rad Repubs passed a bill over Johnson's veto to block his removal of any cabinet officers. Johnson tested the law's unconstitutionality by specifically choosing The Untouchable, Sec of War Edwin Stanton, for removal. Johnson survived impeachment in the Senate trial by one vote; Stanton died the next year.

Regarding Stanton's motives to have actually orchestrated the assassination conspiracy, we know Stanton held Lincoln in disdain, in how he addressed him in cabinet meetings and, in letters, referring in one to Lincoln's "imbecility".

And there is no denying it was Stanton who as Sec of War ordered all the bridges around DC closed except the one Booth immediately headed straight for. A not-little detail lost in the fury of the vengeance to speedily find conspirators guilty and disposed of, and the case closed.

Booth's diary, found on him, was later presented absent several pages, perhaps conveniently for co-conspirators unnamed.

Redford's attempt to discuss the poitics of conspiracies turns out to be sadly historically mushy on the facts, particularly regarding Mary Surratt, but more glaringly on the motives of Edwin Stanton, who may have been aiming the spotlight on her in order to get away with murder himself.

For those who follow the herd in automatically refusing to imagine! anyone! in government!! could possibly! conspire! with others!!! to remove the king, I give you the Roman Senate who knew they could brazenly murder Julius Caesar, and so did not shrink from admitting it. Apparently, absent admission of presidential murder, it is impossible in the United States for our flawless and guiltless government officials to even imagine doing such a thing.

The Civil War has left traces that are not easily calculated, I only hope 9/11 will not be of the same impact; a historical film, even if not too realistic, may help to put it all in a different perspective for future generations, allowing a personal angle rather than enhance the collective unconscious on revenge. The analogy is that America may be at war with itself, as calculated.

Lincoln's assassination was done at the behest of Europe's Crowned bloodsuckers, who sided with the Southern Confederacy. John Wilke's Booth's father was an Englishman. Cherie Blair( former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair's wife) is directly related to the Booth family.
Tony Blair, recently became Roman Catholic. Mary Suratt was Catholic too. All these coincidences lead one to the inescapable conclusion that Lincoln was killed by elements of European/Vatican aristocracy.
Notice who is financing this pic...."is being financed by the American Film Co., a venture headed by online brokerage entrepreneur Joe Ricketts."
Ricketts is an alumnist of Creighton University, in Nebraska, a Jesuit school.
Hmm, I wonder what the film will leave out. **grin**
Booth, like his European masters, was a 33rd degree Mason. Albert Pike, a Confederate General, was also a 33rd degree Mason.

President Lincoln's assassin found a refuge in Rome!!

The great emancipator guided the ship of state through the most terrible storms ever to confront a nation. Traitors lurked everywhere both at home and abroad....John Surratt—the associate of assassin John Wilkes Booth—found a refuge in Rome before his arrest and return to the U.S.
John Surratt, Mary Suratt's son, was the overall coordinator of the assassination.

Surratt fled to Rome where he enlisted as a soldier or Zouave in the Papal army.

I have been following the events and I am very interested in seeing this film because it really explores so much of what we want to keep hidden behind the US Government. Why was Mary Surratt the scapegoat for a plot that involved everyone from Vice President Andrew Johnson, (who had visited the "Conspirator's nest" at her boarding house and knew Booth) to the Jesuits and Vatican who hid Johnny Surratt behind the Pope while his mother swung on the gallows? Why did Johnson and so many others want her executed?

Who else was involved in the assassination of Lincoln besides Booth? We don't really want to know do we? But this film might give us a historical refreshing of things we still see going on toady.


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